ACS Insights

Tips for training four generations in the workforce

Increasingly, corporate training plays a critical role in a world where the labor market is on fire and jobs continuously evolve to keep up with technology, fluid teams, and hybrid workplace models. Simultaneously, learning leaders now have four distinct generations to train in the workforce, each with different preferences, learning styles, and expectations.

Tips for Training 4 Generations

While their differences are plenty, they do have something in common: they view up-skilling as an employee benefit and a powerful recruiting tool. According to a recent Gallup study, 61 percent of workers said the opportunity to learn new skills was an important reason to stay with an employer; 48 percent would consider switching employers to gain training. Additionally, 65 percent said employer-provided up-skilling is very important when evaluating a potential new job.

Unfortunately, according to a Harris Poll for the American Staffing Association, only slightly more than one-third of employees say their employer is helping them improve their skills or gain new ones. When we break that number down by generation, we see the dissatisfaction is higher among younger generations (50 percent of Millennials, 37 percent of Gen Z) and lower for older generations (33 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of Baby Boomers.) It makes sense though. Older generations came up with formal classroom training, long form content and grades measured by completion rates. Younger generations are used to internet based training, micro content and continuous grading scales. Perhaps the key to better training has more to do with personalizing training by generational preferences and expectations. Below we take a deeper look at all four generations and offer suggestions on how you can do just that.

"Training effectiveness is directly related to how personalized, relevant and consumable it is. We have to remember that looks different to everyone." - Sharon Levitch, Founder ACS

Gen Z (born 1997 - 2012)

This digitally native, highly diverse generation is pouring into the workforce. They have never known a world without social media and 91% of Gen Z say the technology offered by an employer will impact their job choice. They can easily communicate with hundreds of their peers and organize action within minutes, so they don’t have much patience for red tape. Processes and communication styles that worked even five years ago could easily fail with them. The good news - they are a hard working generation that doesn’t expect to get something for nothing, and they’re willing to dive into training.

  • By 2030, 30% of the global workforce will be Gen Z.

  • 70% view an employer's professional development and training offerings as important considerations when accepting a new job.

  • 53% of GenZers want to work in an office.

  • 58% prefer working in a team rather than on their own.

Tips for Gen Z learning:

  • Content style: short and sweet and laser focused on learning quickly. Consider chunking learning into Micro-learning and nano-content. Microlearning delivers bite-sized learning modules within 15 minutes with specific learning objectives. Nano learning delivers modules within 2 minutes with a focus on teaching one skill within the learning objective.

  • Mentoring on the job: as digitally savvy as they are, they actually prefer face-to-face communication in the workplace and when vetting job opportunities.

  • Personalized courses: Gen Z are the most diverse generation and they value personalization, individuality, and creativity, and work–life balance.

  • Progress updates: this age group craves transparency, so frequently give them progress updates and show them where they are in the learning process and what they need to accomplish to move forward.

Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)

In two years, Millennials will officially dominate the workforce at 75% and this juggernaut will quickly take their skills where they feel appreciated. As of 2021, 44% were looking to leave their jobs in the next two years because they don’t believe their employers have invested in them (remember, they are the most dissatisfied with training). Millennials pay close attention to the tech an organization brings to the table. Coined the “I want it now” generation they have zero patience with inefficiency and process for the sake of ‘paying the dues.’

  • 84% view an employer's professional development and training offerings as important considerations when accepting a new job.

  • 60% are open to new job opportunities.

  • 55% are not engaged at work, while 16% are actively disengaged.

  • The top three reasons Millennials left their job were: better compensation and benefits, more advancement and more of a challenge.

Tips for Millennial learning:

  • Content style: keep it digital. Overwhelmingly, they prefer IMs, texting, and email. Naturally, micro-learning and nano-content would work with this demographic as well, as both lend themselves to fast, mobile experiences.

  • Link courses to growth opportunities: The most important factors when they’re deciding whether to accept a job are salary, work–life balance, and career growth opportunities.

  • Flexibility: Offer unique assignments they can choose to take on demand.

  • Keep it mobile: 35.6% say smartphones are the device they most frequently use.(1)

Gen X (born 1965–1980)

By 2028, the smallest generation will finally outnumber Boomers (yet remain much smaller than Millennials.) Entrepreneurial from the start, this naturally independent generation represents 55% of start-up founders. They are busy both raising kids and caring for aging parents, firmly living in the ‘sandwich phase’. As a result, they prioritize their own interests and needs ahead of those of the companies they work for and quickly move on if their needs are not met.

  • 79% view an employer's professional development and training offerings as important considerations when accepting a new job.

  • 58% are happy with remote work.

  • 36% of Gen X say they will look for a new job within the next 12 months.

Tips for Gen X learning:

  • Content style: Efficiency rules. They don’t care what medium it is, as long as it’s efficient (time is money!)

  • Flexibility: they are motivated by diversity and the time freedom that comes with work–life balance.

  • Keep it focused: content modules should stay brief and topic-based so they can revisit them for reinforcement when needed.

  • Stay interactive: try using demonstrations and other real-time interactive options to learn new skills. The original skeptics, providing this group with an opportunity to ask questions provides value as well.

  • Print it? At least make it an option. As old school as it sounds, the written word still rules for many Gen X’ers. They appreciate well documented steps.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

The boomers believe hard work should be rewarded with success because for many of them it was. They are proud of their accomplishments, and they like to be recognized for them. They grew up without technology and remember a time when courses included three ring binders and classrooms. To remain relevant in the workforce, they’ve had to teach themselves how to use technology, including computers, smartphones, the Internet, office programs and now - social media. Obviously, their ability to learn new things is strong!

  • By 2030, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.

  • 79% view an employer's professional development and training offerings as important considerations when accepting a new job.

  • 79% of baby boomers would rather be semi-retired than leave completely.

  • Baby Boomers quit for the ability to work from anywhere at nearly twice the rate (17%) of Gen Xers and Millennials.

Tips for Boomer Learning:

  • Content Style: boomers prefer organized, sequential learning. They want the flow to be logical and the welcome opportunities for feedback and practice.

  • Invite them to Mentor: they’re still very motivated by company loyalty, teamwork, and responsibility, so inviting them to share their skills with younger generations is not only critical for knowledge transfer, but it signals an appreciation for their experience and wisdom.

  • Keep it self-paced: boomers like control over their own learning experience, and they may appreciate some extra time to understand a new medium if it’s the first time they’ve encountered it.

  • Flexibility: baby boomers value work-life balance, at such a premium, those who left their jobs for this flexibility did so at twice the rate of Millennials (Conference Executive Board)

  • Challenge them: boomers enjoy competing! They often do well with learning that is tied to scoring points, achieving goals and earning recognition.

While generational learning preferences, behaviors and styles certainly exist, it’s clear that every generation appreciates the opportunity to improve themselves. Training your organization’s trainers to think about building content through the discerning eyes of your multi-generational learning audience will not only help teams absorb and retain what they need to know - it will also position your training team for better outcomes and greater success - no matter what your organization’s learning journey requires!

(1): HRO Today Flash Report Volume 5, Issue 4 “Background Screening Not a Deterrent on Candidate Experience”, sponsored by GHRR 2021