Millennials have been accused of being lazy, feeling entitled, and lacking commitment. They are said to suffer from a peculiar New Age affliction called “digital dependency,” where periods of time without their smartphone result in increased anxiety and even genuine moments of existential crisis.
Who is responsible for levelling such scathing criticism at Millennials – and is it actually fair?
While it has never been easy for younger generations to find favor with their elders, Millennials seem to be getting it particularly tough from their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers. The gaps between the generations are particularly pronounced in the workplace.
Today’s multi-generational workforce ranges from 50yr+ Boomers through to Millennials as young as 20 (via the often neglected 40-something Generation X); the difficulty of facilitating workplace training for such diverse groups has long been debated. While there are many differences within a group of people, and similarities beyond, banding them together in generations has become a useful marketing tool; in a similar way, the labels are also useful when picking best fit learning solutions for different demographics. A blanket approach won’t address the needs and nuances of each generation, and the task faced by the learning and development manager (L&D) is a complex one.
The conclusion is that a one-size-fits-all training solution isn’t the answer; what’s more, the old methods of training (one-day workshops and ‘push’ learning focused on an organization’s needs) are fast losing ground to a more individual and human-centric model.
Millennials: so what?
The composition of the multi-generational workforce is changing, and by 2020, it’s anticipated that 50% of workers will be classified as Millennials.
Aside from allegations of being lazy, feeling entitled, and lacking commitment, Millennials have also sometimes been viewed as both demanding and perennially dissatisfied. Employers are surprised to learn that they have to work harder at keeping their Millennials on board; many employers have decided that the best strategy for retaining this group has been relevant training and solutions that encourage self-evolution. A survey report of 520 organizations, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, found that 49% of respondents thought increased learning and development opportunities were a specific step toward addressing staff retention issues.
While some argue that Millennials are “job-hoppers” – and it’s true, they do tend to change career path and switch up companies more often than their predecessors – is the quest for job satisfaction really such a bad thing? Millennials are less likely to stay in a role where they perceive little job progression or opportunities for self-fulfillment and enrichment.
While disengagement at work is not uniquely a Millennial problem (according to Gallup Daily tracking, only 32% of U.S. employees across the board are engaged) the challenge and importance of engaging the “job-hopping” generation stems from the fact they will be the largest element of the labor force in the not-too-distant future. According to Richard Fry, senior economics and education researcher at Pew Research Center, as Baby Boomers retire and Generation X numbers plateau, the amount of Millennials in the workplace will continue to rise (a trend that first became apparent in 2015 when they surpassed other generations).
Learning on the move
Technology has reshaped and transformed industries that haven’t changed in decades, and the corporate training industry is no exception. It’s sometimes difficult to remember what life without smartphones looked like, given the prominence with which they now feature in people’s lives. It sure seems like mobile is here to stay, and it’s the most obvious medium from which to reach out to hyper-connected Millennials. There are now opportunities, for example, to provide short, bite-sized micro lessons that fill those vacuums of time that “bookend” the daily commute.
For many organizations, the future of learning includes increasing the ability of staff to learn for themselves, according to Towards Maturity’s 2016 report, Preparing for the Future of Learning. Eighty-three percent of L&D leaders are looking to build a more self-directed learning culture, and as part of this, they encourage people to organize their own personal learning strategies.
Within this context, mobile learning comes into its own as a medium for communicating learning. Mobile learning is something that everyone can do, at intervals or gaps in the working day, without adding to an already busy work schedule or getting in the way of “real” work.
Organizations in a variety of industry sectors are actively seeking digital learning strategies that align with their Millennial audience’s needs and expectations. This means ensuring that content can be delivered instantly on any device (laptop, tablet or smartphone) with just the right material to meet a learner’s self-diagnosed need and presented in the most appropriate format. Some companies offer micro-bites of content that learners pick and choose from: a high level one-minute PDF that covers the topic in a helicopter view or a just-in-time hands-on how to do it video snippet to watch on the ride to the next client meeting. By making learning available in bite-sized chunks, 24 hours a day, through smartphones, tablets and laptops and allowing learners adjust the range and format of what they require, Millennials can acquire essential base knowledge or tune up on discrete competencies at their moment of need.
Mobile learning has been accepted as an innovative and important way of conducting corporate training. There’s still much to be done, however, in advancing the use of mobile in corporate learning. According to the Towards Maturity report, many L&D teams have not yet implemented the technology that might help them capitalise on delivering better training experiences.
Better learning for Millennials
Creating a learning program that targets Millennials requires a different approach to that which has gone before.
“The younger generation likes to use mobile. Usually, it’s Bring Your Own Device [to my seminars],” said Julie Bishop, founder of jobhop.co.uk who advocates training that includes mobile as part of a blended learning program.
Defined as digitally native, hands-on, and adaptable when it comes to technological innovation, mobile learning is the obvious choice for this cohort. They aren’t “typical” suit-and-tie people like their predecessors; they prefer regular informal outreach from their management with regards to all aspects of their employment, and that includes L&D.
Millennials have grown up in a culture of instant gratification, and they’re highly intolerant of needless bureaucracy or unexplained delays in getting what they want. This means that learning via mobile should conform to the same expectations: it should be highly responsive, easy to access, with succinct content and information. Video has also emerged as a core medium to deliver content to this cohort; it’s an exciting and attention-grabbing mode, and one that lends itself successfully to a mobile learning environment.
Mobile learning is the perfect medium for “just-in-time” learning and “in-the-moment-on-the-job” training and is also great for refresher, reinforcement, and performance support. Learners need only reach into their hip pockets or handbags to retrieve their devices and the training they need is there at their fingertips (Wi-Fi and data permitting, of course.)
Since Millennials are so engaged in social media, such platforms can also be incorporated to powerful effect in mobile learning. Social engagement – such as inviting feedback, creating polls, facilitating discussion, and encouraging collaboration – is valuable in the training itself, in the appraisal process, and in the evaluation of best training approaches.
As L&D leaders strive to deliver programs that will better support their employees and businesses, they need to make decisions based on what’s trending and what’s working. The benefits of mobile to the learning industry are clear, but its potential is only beginning to be uncovered.