We all know that our workforces are changing. But we do have the ability to reach out to all generations with our training and development. The Baby Boomers are not accepting retirement, Generation X is in full swing, and Generation Y is just entering the workforce. Before we talk about how to effectively train each group, let’s determine who’s who. Baby Boomers were generally born between 1946 and 1965 – in many organizations they are the executives. But many Boomers may have taken early retirement and want to reenter the workforce. Generation X comprises the group that was born between 1966 and 1982 – they are now creeping into the senior and executive levels in some organizations, but as we’ll discuss, Gen Xers are not the ones who stay in one place for life. Finally, Generation Y’s members were born from 1983 and going forward. What are their learning styles, and more importantly, how can you reach these three major groups?
The Baby Boomers have been shackled to their desks for many years – the common worry among them is that the company may drop of the face of the earth if they are not around. This group has had to learn and unlearn many things over the years, but they never stop learning. Boomers are networkers and transformers who are adept at taking in new technology and using it effectively. In the classroom, Boomers will be attracted to group activities where they can practice networking. But don’t stray away from using technology in the classroom because of the presence of the Boomers – with a little direction, they will be able to apply technology just as their children (and grandchildren) do.
Generation X, in direct opposition to the Boomers, does not want to stay at a company for a lifetime. Gen Xer’s careers are fluid – they are motivated by their own satisfaction with the job and have no problem leaving if they don’t find that satisfaction. Generation X loves technology and wants to learn new things while expanding in their current positions. Members of this generation like to practice what they’ve learned in a friendly work environment – where feedback is a constant. For training, Gen Xers can use a combination of online and classroom learning, as well as self-directed learning. Since they look for career satisfaction, tie their learning to a well-defined career path. And don’t forget to provide feedback on their performance.
Generation Y was born with technology – most members of this generation don’t remember what it was like to make phone calls on a land line at all times. But, Gen Yers are group-oriented, even socially. They are able to multitask but expect you to provide a structure and the resources to get the job done. This group expects respect for opinions and knowledge, but will give it freely in the right circumstances. When you train this group, anything technical is a plus, since this generation is the most highly technically proficient. Consider online training as a good way to reach Generation Y. But since they are group oriented and collaborative, this generation can come into the classroom and will react well to team exercises and more than one assignment at a time – as long as the structure is there. Discussion is also big for this group provided that individuals’ contributions are acknowledged.
Obviously the perfect training world would be the one where each generation is in its own learning environment. Since that will never happen, we have to approach training in a way that will accommodate all generations without alienating them. In general terms, a mixed training approach will work. For example, approach online learning as a supplement or addition to a classroom piece. Short, self-directed content can be solely online – as long as there is a live resource to go to if learners have a problem. All three of these generations will enjoy being in a room together to learn – and your organization can benefit from the cross-generational collaboration.
Since our training worlds are far from perfect, mix your development across media and always keep in mind that the workforce is now comprised of different generations. When you move forward with this mindset, you’ll be able to effectively reach and train Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.