Workplace demographics are changing rapidly, and we have a unique situation where multiple generations are working in our organizations. The rate of population growth is dropping, and as a result, some regions are witnessing an aging workforce:
- In 2015, the millennial generation became the biggest generation in Canada’s workforce. The same year, millennials exceeded the number of Generation Xers in the U.S. workforce.
- Baby boomers continue to be an active part of the workforce. Some organizations can even boast of employing traditionalists.
- In 2017, Generation Z entered the workforce.
The uneven pattern of demographic change is likely to pose major challenges for all labor markets. Training is one of them. With a multigenerational workforce, the approach to training is as important as training itself. If training is approached the right way, the “how,” “what,” “when” and “why” of training will fall into place.
Are these generations different from each other, like we assumed? Have we misjudged them? Have economics and globalization altered the course of the workforce trends we predicted? The way a generation works, its views on training and its expectations can change in the blink of an eye. We assumed that:
- Baby boomers would retire
- Baby boomers hated technology
- Millennials knew everything there is to know about technology
- Millennials required no help with communication, formal meetings or collaboration
Our assumptions were once-upon-a-time trends that we assumed would stay. With so many generations to train, making assumptions will lead to disastrous consequences that we will not recognize until it’s too late.
Seek Current Facts
Seek information that will impact training and learning. Here are some current facts that could change in a few years:
- Baby boomers defy traditional aging and are still a large part of the workforce. They look for, and thrive on, feedback and are open to learning new technology.
- Gen Xers are caught between the experienced and knowledgeable baby boomers and the tech-savvy millennials. They have had to prove themselves more than any other generation.
- Millennials are tech-savvy and -dependent and prefer working remotely. They believe in communication and transparency. They are unsure of the future because of the recent social and political upheavals that have rocked Europe and the U.S., forcing some to look for better opportunities abroad.
- Gen Zers are a steadily increasing percentage of the workforce. Like baby boomers, they look for stability and believe in saving for the future. They are smarter and more mature than the two previous generations and are serious about creating a better world.
Talk to members of each generation; understand the uniqueness that sets them apart and the commonalities that bind them together. Understand what types of training work and do not work for them – and why. Accept new truths about the present and the future of workplace learning.
Communicate, Communicate and Communicate
A lot of misunderstanding can be avoided with proper communication. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are easygoing but expect professionalism. For millennials, knowledge-sharing and collaboration are important. They want access to immediate information, instant solutions and real-time responses. They learn on mobile devices and enjoy social networking sites, hard facts and straightforward answers.
Emails and mobile notifications can be used to communicate training programs, but understand what works best for your learners and how you can align those approaches with your organization’s capabilities.
Use Different Levels of Technology
None of these generations detests technology. Baby boomers have some awareness of technology and are willing to learn the ropes of tech-enabled learning. They use older forms of technology as an instrument to enhance their knowledge. Later generations are comfortable with and rely on technology for learning. They are expert users of existing technology and quick learners of new technology. Organizations can use middle-ground technology to bridge the gaps of communication, training and learning.
Deploy a Continuous Learning Approach
A continuous learning approach will help generations combat steep learning curves. Create learning programs that meet the common training requirements of two or more generations. Encourage generations to share knowledge with each other.
In our organizations, there are four (possibly five) generations, several types of learners, multiple methods of training, more opportunities to experiment with training … and an equal number of opportunities to fail. It seems impossible to tackle the problems associated with training a multigenerational workforce, but tackle it we must, and with the right approach to training, it is possible.