Young millennials and Generation Z make up a large part of the retail workforce. What’s more, a report by EY predicts that “these young people are now more important than ever … the secret weapon that enables retailers to outcompete in our mobile-first, experience-obsessed society.” What will it take to engage these employees and develop them into associates who provide a great customer experience and boost sales? Training is one answer. According to EY, young millennials and Gen Z find “career-focused perks and professional development opportunities” more important than many other benefits. Unfortunately, Lessonly research has found that 46 percent of retail associates don’t receive enough training to perform their jobs effectively, and 54 percent of retailers are looking for better associate training and enablement.

Retailers with effective training programs have higher customer satisfaction scores, sales and retention, according to Ellen Davis, senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives at the National Retail Federation (NRF) and president of the NRF Foundation. To support young people entering the retail workforce, the NRF recently signed the White House Pledge to America’s Workers, “committing to create enhanced career opportunities for 250,000 individuals over the next five years through the NRF Foundation’s RISE Up program and student programs.”

Creating Career Paths

Authenticity is important to millennials and Gen Z employees, says Annie Hodson, a solution architect at SweetRush. Frame training as “a genuine investment in the team member” so they know you value them and their development. Providing clear career paths, for example, shows associates that you believe they are important and can improve retention by showing them their long-term potential with the company.

“Many retail employees may not know about the many career pathways available to them within a particular company once they achieve new skills,” says Davis. “In addition to training, many retailers do a great job ensuring that workers know the potential career paths and opportunities that could exist if they choose to commit to a specific company.” One SweetRush client in the beauty industry uses surveys to capture employees’ interests and skills and then matches them with corresponding roles in the company.

Hodson adds that younger employees “want to be part of organizations that have similar values and that they feel like are doing good things in the world.” Infuse your company’s values into training so associates connect with them and then personify them when they interact with customers.

Personalizing Training

Development should be ongoing, Hodson says, rather than a “one-and-done” onboarding program. In addition to instructor-led training, which will likely always have a place in L&D programs, mobile microlearning can meet learners where they are and in the short time periods they have to train in – between customer interactions, for example.

Social learning is another way to engage employees in training, and user-generated content is one social learning tool used effectively in retail training. “In the world of Instagram influencers and YouTube celebrities,” says Hodson, successful retail companies are “offering employees the opportunity to cultivate their own following and to build their reputation within the company.” You’re likely already leveraging influencers and user-generated content in your marketing to young millennials and Gen Z – why not do the same for your employees?

Training should be contextual, too, says Rob Brillantes, lead instructional designer at SweetRush. “Make sure it’s something that’s relatable to their particular customers and how their customers are going to interact with the product.” Assess employees’ skills and build from there, so you’re leveraging what they already know and so that they’re only spending time on learning new skills. Along those lines, another way to personalize training is to incorporate employees’ interests. Flexible learning paths based on employees’ interests and skills boosts retention “and gives them a sense of control and autonomy,” says Brillantes.

Finally, says Davis, “Training must be compelling and visual. The more interactive and engaging the content is, the better the outcomes will be.” Because retail training is largely scenario-driven, animation and interactive video with branching are great ways to engage learners and help them practice real-life decision-making, Hodson says. Technology is improving to make those videos easier to create and more effective to learn with.

As younger millennials and, now, members of Gen Z continue to enter the retail workforce, training must adapt to make them more successful employees. Engaging retail associates in training has historically been a challenge, but new modalities and innovative approaches to traditional training programs can improve outcomes. And, fortunately, these employees are entering your stores ready to learn.

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