Workforce demographics are changing. As the average lifespan for humans continues to increase, so does the typical retirement age. Consequently, the age diversity in the current workforce is widening significantly; it is now common for organizations to have employees working side-by-side who represent four to five generations. These include ‘Baby Boomers’ (born 1946-1964), ‘Generation X’ (born 1965-1980), ‘Millennials’ (born 1981-1996), and ‘Generation Z’ (born 1997-2012).
What does this mean for workplace learning? Above all, this trend implies that development leaders are forced to adapt their offerings in line with the needs and wants of each generation. This means creating new approaches that better cater to the requirements of younger employees, who generally prefer a digital-first approach. Organizations should urgently revise their learning strategies to encourage the retention of younger employees and develop an overall more effective workforce.
Generation Z: New workforce on the block
Born in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s, Generation Z is perhaps the first generation to have grown up with social media and mobile phones at their fingertips from an early age. Therefore, technology use in the workforce isn’t a novelty for Generation Z, but rather, a norm.
Many younger Generation Z employees also entered the workforce when flexible working was either becoming or had already become, the standard for many businesses. Indeed, collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack are not necessarily something that Generation Z has to adapt to, but rather the dominant form of workplace communication. These subtleties carry significant weight regarding Generation Z’s learning priorities and modalities.
Moving towards a modern approach to workplace learning and development
The shift towards flexible working in a significant number of organisations has, in turn, resulted in a shift towards flexible learning. In the past, employees may have learned by attending a face-to-face training course or during an office seminar at a designated time. With the introduction of flexible working, these approaches become much more difficult to maintain. Even if they have shifted to an online model, using a video conferencing tool, for example, many employees are disengaged and fatigued. A new approach is necessary.
In tandem with increasing flexibility, learning experts have reassessed the delivery and content of learning and development materials in the workplace. All generations, but especially Generation Z, are demanding a different style of workplace learning. Today’s average employee is said to be time-poor, with just 1 percent of a typical workweek focusing on learning and development. On top of this, we can add a globally dwindling attention span. This is especially the case for Generation Z employees, who are said to have an 8-second attention span.
Designing a relevant learning and development plan for each generation
Today’s learners simply don’t have the time or interest to take part in old-school learning and development programs. To capture the attention of the average learner today, learning and development leaders must offer short, bite-size content that gets from source to end-user in a matter of seconds. Employees should constantly be consuming information directly relevant to their job – gone are the days of company-wide e-learning rollouts that disengage those who cannot apply the learning to their work. Presenting curated information to specific subsets of employees ensures that they remain focused and their time is used effectively.
It may be relevant to offer different learning and development opportunities to different generations in the workforce. Younger employees may want to focus on developing their skills, as evidenced by data stating that almost three-quarters (74 percent) of Millennial and Generation Z employees plan to leave their job within the next year within the next year due to a lack of skills development opportunities. Older workers may want to focus on soft skills such as conflict resolution and leadership because they are more established in their careers.
Ultimately, a personalized approach is crucial when revamping learning and development programs. Every workforce is diverse in a variety of ways, including age and seniority. Leaders must therefore offer a strategy that suits the individual rather than investing time and resources into a blanket approach that may not be successful.