There are 83.1 million millennials in the U.S., and they get a bad rap. They are often characterized as a generation continually over-rewarded for under-performance. It’s assumed that since millennials took home trophies for fifth place as kids, they will expect similar rewards for mediocre performance throughout their careers.
What, Exactly, is a Millennial?
Before we get into how best to train millennials, it is instructive to first understand who they are. First, millennials are between 18 and 34, born from the early '80s to the mid-'90s. According to the Pew Research Center, the millennial population has now surpassed that of the Baby Boomers, and composes more than 25 percent of the workforce in America.
To shed some light on the millennial personality, Gordon Tredgold, founder and CEO of Leadership Principles, reports:
88% would rather work collaboratively than competitively
64% claim they would prefer to earn less at a job they enjoy than earn more at a job they don’t
80% say they would like direct feedback as opposed to a formal review
Millennials stay with employers longer than their Gen-X colleagues
But They're Not That Different
According to a Harvard Business Review survey of millennials at KPMG, they are virtually identical to their older colleagues on every measure of overall engagement such as pride in the organization, optimism about the firm’s future, trust in leadership, and willingness to recommend KPMG to a friend.
In addition, the HBR survey found that millennials in the workplace share the same passion for their careers, and have about the same turnover rate as the previous generation.
How to Hack the Millennial Training Code
So, to really unlock the potential of your millennial staff, training should honor their view of the world, without assuming their work ethic or ambitions are inferior to those of their older colleagues. To create the list below, we looked at our own experience building training programs for millennial audiences, and we surveyed a group of millennials in their native habitat—social media. Here's what we found:
1. Design for their learning style.
As digital natives, they know how to find information quickly. As a result, they prefer learning that is focused on what they need to "do" more than what they need to "know." With that in mind, here’s the key point to remember when creating formal learning (whether eLearning or ILT) for millennials: only include “must-have” content. If you're creating a skills-based course, focus on the most critical tasks; if you must train on "facts," limit courses (to the extent possible) to those driven by regulatory or compliance requirements. One millennial we surveyed, a certified nurse assistant at a major hospital system, said,
"During New Hire Orientation, they tried to teach us to learn our electronic health records system from a PowerPoint. It was really hard to stay focused and follow along. Once they let us actually TRY it, I picked it up really easily. They should have just let us do that to begin with—we're used to playing on the computer!"
2. Develop a coaching or mentorship program.
Millennials vastly prefer informal learning, such as on-the-job training, to formal learning modes like instructor-led and eLearning. In fact, most of the millennials we polled responded in favor of coaching or mentorship. An associate at a law firm said,
"E-Learning is great for basic background on the law and industry, but on-the-job shadowing of managers and partners has helped me learn to actually do my job."
According to Forbes, one reason that most companies fail to see their millennials succeed is because they often forget the coaching/mentoring aspect. Millennials respond well to hierarchical structures and benefit from direct mentorship. The hierarchy provides them with clear direction on where they’re headed and the mentorship gives them a road map to get there. Create a mentor/mentee program as part of onboarding and develop an accompanying review process.
3. Give your millennial staff as much direct feedback as possible.
Though a mentor/mentee program is effective, you can really unleash your millennials' potential through a much simpler mechanism: direct feedback. A marketing professional who responded to my social media poll said,
"Working on projects directly, then getting both peer and manager feedback, was invaluable for me. I quickly saw where I was making mistakes and corrected them. I also understood what I was doing well so I could build on those strengths."
According to Paul DePalma, CEO of Adept Performance Systems, millennials seek direct feedback more than any generation before them. Millennials want to know, directly, if they are on the right track. And if they’re not, they actively want to discuss a strategy to put them back on track. By simply scheduling regular check-ins between the millennial and manager, and providing constructive feedback, your millennial will develop into a productive member of your workforce.
Millennials want a central hub of information where they can learn at their own pace. A barista at a major coffee chain responded,
"I don’t really love structured learning. Does anyone? I think I pick things up faster than most people. Just let me pull what I need to know, when I need it—I'll remember it better."
Create an online portal that provides access to all job related training materials, a sort of resource hub that they can access at all times. This allows them to study and develop independently.
5. Capitalize on their love for technology.
As true digital natives, millennials are incredibly tech savvy. They are also the largest population to own smartphones, with more than 85 percent owning a mobile device. Mobile learning is a natural fit. Consider microlearning strategies, where "learning chunks" are sent to phones twice a day. Or, use enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, Huddle, and Salesforce Chatter, to appeal to millennials' desire to connect and collaborate. One survey respondent—an operations manager at a consulting firm—stated,
"I use my phone for everything. It makes complete sense to me that I should be able to use it for work, too. Slack makes my life easier because I can get notifications in real time when people need something from me, even if I'm not at my desk."
Training your millennial workforce doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, investing time and resources in this population can pay off in a big way. By putting negative stereotypes in perspective, and taking the research to heart, you have a unique opportunity to engage your young workforce, and build a solid foundation for your business.
2015, June 25. Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse, Census Bureau Reports. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-113.html
Jarecke-Cheng, K. 2016, Feb 8. Five Things You Need To Know About Millennials and Travel. Retrived from http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/268520/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-millennials-and-tr.html
Payne, L. 2015, July 22. The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Training Millennials. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/ultimate-cheat-sheet-training-millennials
Sportelli, N. 2015, Oct 28. 5 Mistakes To Avoid When Training Millennial Employees. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliesportelli/2015/10/28/5-mistakes-to-avoid-when-training-millennial-employees/#1a8ef6ed2dae