How to Train a Multi-Generational Workforce

The key is to know your audience and to remember that generation is just one dimension of a person.

In Canada today, we have four distinct generations in the workforce. This is the first time in history that a generational mix of this proportion has existed in this country—and a significant shift is happening, which will reach its peak by 2020.

The workforce includes Traditionalists, born between 1945 and 1949; Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964); Generation X (1965-1981); and Millennials (1982-1990). Forty percent of senior positions are held by Baby Boomers. But by 2020, Millennials will be the dominant group, one full generation removed from Boomers.

As we are largely a product of our times, the era in which we were born shapes our tastes, beliefs, and work ethic. Because each generation shares a place in history, its members tend to develop personalities based on that common experience.

While not everyone fits their generational type perfectly, Traditionalists value hard work and order and respect authority. Baby Boomers tend to be competitive and think workers should pay their dues. Gen Xers are more likely to be skeptical and independent-minded. Millennials like teamwork, feedback, and technology.

It is important to pay attention to these traits, not to separate or label employees, but to better understand and be able to provide the right tools and resources for members of your team.

Being aware of the working styles, preferences, and how each generation believes they should be treated as employees can help organizations with recruitment and retention, conflict resolution, and employee engagement and motivation. It also can help organizations deliver effective employee training. By keeping their characteristics in mind, you can cater your training to this multi-generational workforce.

THE RIGHT MIX

One solution is to ensure you have a mix of learning methods. For example, Millennials tend not to like to read long, detailed case studies, so they need to be replaced with short, timely examples. Boomers like relevancy in their learning, so those examples should be relevant to the workplace and result in actions or knowledge that can be applied to their jobs.

Generation Xers and Millennials appreciate feedback, so be sure to provide opportunities to give and receive feedback during the training session.

Gen Xers tend to prefer working independently, while Millennials like to work in teams. This is possibly a reflection of how the current education system puts emphasis on group projects, while the education model for Boomers and Gen Xers was for students to sit in rows and work independently. This insight can help you to plan a training session that includes a balance of both.

TECH CONNECT

And while using technology provides positive opportunities for training, it also can present a challenge, as capabilities differ among the generations. It is wise to pair people so employees who are less comfortable with technology can work with those who were born into it.

The importance of this was reinforced recently when I ran a training session on LinkedIn. The Millennials were miles ahead of the Gen Xers and Boomers in knowledge of the process and the speed with which they work. With technology training, it can be helpful to provide more individual attention to Boomers or other participants who are less certain about technology.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

The key to effective training for a multi-generational workforce is to know your audience. Have a variety of learning methods and be prepared to adapt as you work through the training. And remember, generation is just one dimension of a person. A trainer also needs to keep in mind other facets, including culture, personality, life experiences, and education. This will ensure you deliver the most valuable training that will help all of your employees develop and succeed.

Audie McCarthy is president and CEO of Mohawk College Enterprise (MCE), a standalone business-to-business corporation established by Mohawk College to prepare people and companies with the skills and expertise required to succeed in today’s fast-paced world. She is an expert in leading people and projects, and in curriculum design, development, and facilitation. McCarthy has more than 25 years of corporate experience, and another 10 years as an entrepreneur. For information, e-mail: amccarthy@mcecor.com.

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