How to provide training for a multi generational workforce

Almost a decade ago, Harvard University released a study predicting the global employee demographics to include all five generations by 2015. In hindsight, this study was not just a crystal ball narrative. This is because, for the first time in history, the average multi generational workforce represents Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and the iGens.

If you are familiar with the term "herding cats", devising learning strategies that cater to all generational composites in your company may just resemble a similarly improbable feat.

The Multi Generational Workforce: Define First, Train Second

Analysing the internal makeup traits and communication preferences of each generation will bring one a step closer to designing training programmes that may resonate with all generations collectively as a unified learner group in the organisation.

  1. Traditionalists – The Silent Conformists

  • Representing the smallest percentage of the workforce today, their intrinsic tenancies to adhere to authority, rules and regulations mean these workers will comply with any kind of training proposed to them without any resistance.
  • Remember, however, their affinity towards ‘’Papyrus’’ materials, better known as books, instruction folders and printed manuals, before overwhelming them with digital tech and tools.
  1. Baby Boomers – My Way or the Highway

  • Often called the "Silver Tsunami", the employees from this generation are highly adverse to change and naturally apprehensive to undertake any actions that may leave them vulnerable or out of sorts.
  • Forget about implementing a cool virtual reality app in their next training exercise, unless you want to be crushed by a wave of judgemental opinions and rebellion.
  • Training execution should align towards easing them into unfamiliar learning territories as opposed to forcing them to participate in unknown learning realms.
  • Boomers are motivated by accomplishment and actualisation. Hence, training programmes incorporating sufficient challenges, milestones and goals may render excellent developmental gains for these employees.
  1. Generation Xers – Teenage Hell-raisers turned Business Mavericks

  • Born and raised during analogue times, these digital nomads had to adapt and conquer to survive in a world of increasing automation, communication innovation, and technological advancement.
  • From the looks of things nowadays, this generation is the most self-reliant, creative and responsive to change with 51% per cent of leadership roles occupied by those born between 1965 and 1981 (still not convinced? Maybe the names Dell, Dorsey, Easterbrook and Musk ring a bell).
  • Designing training structures for Generation X proves to be quite challenging, as they are easily bored and disengaged. However, web-based platforms with lots of designs and graphics (they learn best from pictures) and limited word content will keep them immersed and interested.
  • If you are also able to feed their addiction to emails, by offering ample opportunities for questions and suggestions, their training journey going forward will be paved with progression and evolution.
  1. Millennials – Me, Myself and I

  • Lobbyists for Millennials describe them as open-minded, upbeat, expressive and passionate. Advocates against, meanwhile, depict them as lazy, entitled, self-obsessed and narcissistic.
  • Whichever way your opinion blows, this generation will soon dominate the workforce, with a 75% representation figure by 2025. Time is running out to implement effective learning strategies to transition them from unresponsive to absorbed, distracted to attentive, and entitled to engaged.
  • Training initiatives offering variety, social collaboration and self-directed learning options will appeal to their continuous desires for change, interaction with others and individual discovery.
  • Learning activities aiming to incorporate within their lifestyles instead of being scheduled events on their calendars will render the most positive developmental outcomes for these employees.
  1. iGens – Pursuers of Purpose and Security

  • These frugal office babies are just entering the workforce. Generation Z or iGens are motivated by meaning and money, a sort of chalk and cheese comparison on the social equality continuum.
  • “The golden rule of Generation Z training may as well come down to these five words: Don’t patronise, but don’t pander either.”
  • Designing and delivery of training programmes for these newbies is quite the undertaking as they expect a justification of the training itself (the purpose for them and those around them) as well as a security promise (how will training increase their personal bottom line).
  • Being the true digital natives of our current era, generation Z requires mobile first and mobile only coupled with intuitive technologies delivering “snack-sized’’ content across a variety of platforms.
  • They want videos, games, quizzes and soon virtual and augmented reality training tools.
  • Added to the mix comes their requirements for authentic face to face training. Just when you got used to the online-only interaction of the millennial!

The training sweet spot

Redesigning training methodologies to separately cater for each generational group in your company, is neither practical nor plausible.

The answer lies in isolating those preferential learning commonalities across these generations to find that sweet spot where training will stick with the matured Boomer worker, right through to the bright-eyed busy tailed graduate employee.

Finding common ground regarding training preferences and behavioural traits may require a bit of targeted ‘’googling’’ and the advice of a training expert or two, but without the need to reinvent the training wheel.

Plus, you can keep track of everything with a good training management software system in place.

Learning customisation per generation is not the answer, but training adaptation for unification, may very well be the solution for multi-generational workforce development.

Picture of Fiona Sanderson

Written by Fiona Sanderson

Fiona is Marketing Manager at myhrtoolkit. Her areas of expertise include HR systems, productivity, employment law updates, and creating HR infographics.

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