When today’s Baby Boomers entered the workforce, their demands and expectations from those first “real” jobs were ridiculously modest by the standards of today. On the first day, they received an employee handbook that they took home and scanned while eating dinner or watching TV. Company training, if there was any, was nominal. For the most part, Boomers accepted the idea that it was normal to feel ignorant and unskilled in the first weeks or months at a new job. They understood it was expected – and maybe they expected it of themselves – that they would “learn the ropes” by making mistakes.
When it came to promotions, most Boomers were equally willing to proceed by trial and error. Nobody told them, “Here is just what you need to do to get ahead in our company,” or, “Here is the next open position we’ll be considering for you.” One day, they believed, in the hazy future, their bosses (not “supervisors” then) would call them in and say, “We just gave you a promotion. Leave early, and take the family to dinner to celebrate.”
Was there feedback? Of course, there was. There were quarterly, semiannual, or yearly job reviews that usually followed a script. “Here’s what you’ve been doing wrong. “Here’s where you need to improve. So, do it.” Session over. In short, many Baby Boomers were happy to toil away in black boxes, learning jobs and building careers in a loose way that would seem absurd to the members of today’s younger workforce, the Millennials.
Different Expectations and Demands — Most of today’s Millennial workers would object strenuously to the employment and evaluation conditions that Baby Boomers (and members of the generation that preceded them) thought were normal. Today, if Millennials start a job and discover conditions like these in a new workplace, they will start looking for a new job in a matter of hours.
Ample research documents that Millennial attitudes are different than their predecessors’. One major study by Gallup, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” reports these findings:
• 60% of Millennials say that the opportunity to learn and grow on the job is extremely important. In contrast, only 40% of baby boomers feel the same way.
• 50% of Millennials strongly agree that they plan to remain in their jobs for at least the next year. That might sound like a big percentage, but 60% of members of all other groups plan to stay in place for at least a year. Baby boomers and others are planning to stick around, while Millennials are weighing their options.
Learning, Training are keys to Retaining — Findings like these – and you can easily find more – document that millennials are more likely to be engaged and to stay in their jobs if they have opportunities to plan their career paths and learn. Here are the trends:
• Millennials like to feel capable, confident. They do not like to feel like rookies. Many of them think of themselves as leaders – or as leaders who are waiting to be discovered. They want to look good, and they thrive on being able to contribute confidently from the day they arrive on the job. The right kind of training—both for new hires and current millennial employees—makes that happen.
• Millennials usually are skilled students. They like to apply the learning skills they developed while they were in school. To them, learning feels as natural as eating three meals a day. As the Gallup study found, they are eager to learn. In contrast, getting Baby Boomers to believe in training can be a harder sell. They tend to view training as a burden, something they have to endure. Millennials say, “Wow, when can I start?”
• Millennials are tech-friendly. Most of them love to be trained on their smartphones and tablets, which are the most powerful training options available to many companies today. The result is better knowledge transfer, even to groups of employees who work in multiple or far-flung locations. Baby Boomers, in contrast, are more tech-resistant. They are likely to freeze and resist when they hear they are going to be taking company training on their smartphones.
Train to Build Productivity — A lot of training focuses on teaching needed skills. This is as it should be. But, training can accomplish a lot more than that, if you use it to establish some of the following things that many Millennials are looking for:
• Mentoring relationships with their supervisors. Gallup found that 60% of Millennials feel that the quality of the people who manage them is "extremely important." With that in mind, your training for new employees can set up mentoring relationships, not reporting structures, between them and their managers. Explain how often their managers will conduct check-ins and job reviews, and what matters will be addressed in those sessions. And, schedule frequent check-ins rather than “on the calendar” pro forma reviews that both managers and the people they manage find boring, or worse.
• A sense of belonging on an energized and innovative team. This is a bit of a contradiction, but at the same time Millennials think of themselves as individualist entrepreneurs, they also expect to be part of an interesting team. Letting Millennials get to know their teammates during training, and fostering a sense of team/group identity, can help convince them that they have joined the right organization.
• A well-defined career path. Consider creating a personalized career development plan for all new employees (the exception being seasonal or other short-term workers who probably will not remain with your organization for long.) Another idea? Enroll new employees in management training programs from their first days on the job. Millennials like to know their next steps as they build their careers, and training is a fine place to explain them.
Millennials are the most energized, skilled, and capable generation ever to enter the workforce has yet seen. Train them well and they will become your organization’s brightest future.
Evan Hackel is CEO of Tortal Training, a firm that specializes in developing and implementing interactive training solutions for companies in all sectors. He created the concept of “ingaged leadership” and is principal and founder of Ingage Consulting.