“Generational clashes in the workplace are nothing new. What is new is the extent to which the retirement of the Boomers will leave employers scrambling to recruit and retain the talent they need. The American Society of Training and Development is predicting that 76 million Americans will retire over the next two decades. Only 46 million will be arriving to replace them. Most of those new workers will be Generation Y-ers.”

This quote from Steff Gelston at CIO magazine encompasses the shift in the workplace that we need to expect. As the Baby Boomer generation creeps closer towards retirement, the next generation will need to fill the gap. These workers are members of a generation known as the Digital Natives, or Generation Y. This surge will require businesses to alter their strategies in training and management, especially if they plan on retaining Gen-Y workers.

So what kinds of changes can we expect?


Generation Y

Generation Y First, let’s consider who the members of Generation Y are. Born somewhere between the early 1980s, and 1990s, arguably a little younger, these workers will have grown up in the advent of the digital age, learning from educational computer games and working on projects in school computer labs. The good news is that their saturation in media could potentially make them valuable assets. Because of their experience learning in the instant information age, they are generally eager to try new programs and tools, have a desire to constantly be learning new things, and tend to be most comfortable multitasking.

But these strengths come with weaknesses. Because of their eagerness, and their preference for multitasking, the Generation Y employee will probably have a much shorter attention span. In its July 16, 2007 issue, Time described members of Generation Y as “wanting the kind of life balance where every minute has meaning”, giving them little patience for spending time in lengthy training sessions. Creating another challenge, Generation Y workers have largely grown up with highly involved parents, leading CIO to warn that this may cause them to “require much greater up-front investment than their Gen X predecessors who were required (and preferred) to figure everything out on their own”.

Unfortunately, this need for fast paced, closely managed learning could potentially make Gen-Y workers come across as fickle initially, in spite of their tech savvy talents. As a result, lecture-based training alone will not be as effective with these new workers.

To harness the strengths and overcome the weaknesses of this new breed of worker, eLearning can be a smart solution to train and retain these workers. eLearning can provide more control over their learning experience. Rather than sitting passively in a classroom setting, eLearning would allow them move through the content at their own pace, satisfying their need for “hands-on” learning in a virtual setting that is comfortable to them.

Derek Baird offers another tip for engaging Generation Y learners. He argues, “Digital natives are not going to sit down and read tedious printed employment or training manuals. They want instant access online to information…Revamp your training techniques and methods, implementing tools that are more interactive, such as virtual environments and collaborative tools.” eLearning more easily allows for this kind of flexibility and engagement.

The simple changes in training format can make a world of difference for those fast-paced, control-craving next-generation minds. Although these new employees may seem threatening at first – seeking greater flexibility, control, and an immersion in technology – the results of more adaptive and flexible learning experiences can provide more favorable results in terms of retention and development.

Forbes published an interesting story earlier this year about the influence of Generation Y workers:

Best Buy launched the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, where employees in participating departments are allowed to work virtually anywhere, anytime, as long as they successfully complete their assignments on time. This shift increased productivity 41% at headquarters and decreased turnover by as much as 90%, according to Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week.”

With results like these, perhaps the flexibility these Generation Y workers demand might not be so bad after all.

How do you plan to accommodate the changing training and development needs of Generation Y employees? It’s time to start preparing now.

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