The Future of Learning—The Young Are Restless!

5 tips to engage Millennials in training.

Worldwide, organizations are bracing for a major shift in their workforce profile with the influx of the younger generation (between ages 18 and 25). According to Global Trends, by 2030, Gen Y (a.k.a., Millennials) will comprise the majority of employees, and a significant percentage of today’s young talent will grow into leadership positions.

Training is critical to the success of employees and their organizations. Most companies, particularly in the IT and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Service) sectors, organize orientation programs to equip new hires with basic on-the-job skills. Such courses often are designed by Gen Xers or even Baby Boomers, and don’t always align with Millennials’ expectations. So how can organizations modify their training content so it captivates and nurtures young minds?

Here are five tips that can help:

  1. Treat them as mature individuals. For a curious generation fed on Google, information about their job responsibilities is not a classified secret. But many trainers assume that participants are either completely ignorant or, at best, inadequately qualified. As a result, youngsters often find training programs patronizing, non-inclusive, and, sometimes, plain boring. The movement from teaching to facilitation enables participants to share and contribute what they know and build from there, much like comparing the features of a smartphone on a Website with a friend.
  2. Make it social and fun. During training sessions, participants visiting Facebook and other social media channels is common. Instead of tightening the rules, allow them to navigate social media sites that support learning and participate in them. The more social the environment, the more open it is to new perspectives. Small group exercises that allow participants to explore, fumble, and enjoy in a supportive environment are easy to integrate into “old-school” courses. Incorporating such tools into training will ensure employee engagement in a manner they’re comfortable with.
  3. Embrace technology. The forecast is clear—trainers of today will lose the battle against the smartphone or any other futuristic devices. Just-in-time learning delivered through apps, the use of social platforms inside and outside the classroom, and technology-based simulators are examples of tools that resonate with today’s generation.
  4. Gamify and reward. Gamification is here to stay. Traditional forms of classroom engagement are passé. Today, it’s not enough to make learning fun. It has to be challenging, with immediate accomplishments and rewards. Badges, points, credits, coins—you need all of that good stuff to transform monotonous demonstrations and practice sessions into something the class looks forward to every time.
  5. Personalize without getting personal. Thankfully, one old-fashioned method still works. Aon Hewitt’s 2014 engagement survey points out that “career opportunities” was the top driver of employee engagement worldwide. Making an effort to understand participants’ career motivations will significantly help courses appear more relevant. It also can make trainers more empathetic toward participants and let them experiment without the fear of failure. However, learning to respect personal boundaries is equally important—the introverts are probably the ones with the greatest career focus and potential.

The Road Ahead

Research suggests that 44 percent of young adults sleep with their cell phones and check them at least once during the night. But most trainers ask participants to switch off their cell phones during training hours. It’s unclear if the perceived distraction caused by the presence of mobile phones impedes the learning process more than the anxiety and withdrawal symptoms caused by its absence.

While cultural aspects play an important role in the learning environment, each of the five steps outlined can play a positive role in a classroom. Failure to adapt will only escalate the generational conflict and may trigger negative outcomes such as poor employee turnover and performance.

Of course, adaptation is a two-way street and is easier said than done. But as the Rolling Stones put it, “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you might find … you’ll get what you need!”

Vinayak Jakati is associate vice president of HR at Minacs, a business and technology outsourcing company.