Training, Then and Now

Training that suits every generation in today’s workforce, particularly Millennials, whose technical skills, learning styles and long-term professional goals are considerably different from those of Generation X and Baby Boomers.1

Two decades ago, most corporate training was instructor-led and in-person.  The overall learning objective was to prepare employees for the next level in a career-long journey within the company.  Sessions would often last a few hours, or even days.  Participants would be unreachable by colleagues and unproductive in terms of their day-to-day tasks.

Today’s training approaches—and today’s workers—are remarkably different, explains Paul Rigby, Senior Vice President, Business Operations at Vitalyst.

Training today is indeed more than just traditional chalkboard and conference room sessions.  It also includes lunch-break webinars (live and prerecorded), on-demand video lessons, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and apps.  Techniques employed range from short-burst “microlearning,” to complex setups that employ game design principles to engage participants (known as gamification).

In contrast to corporate learning of the past, where training was designed to carry employees along a career path, the current model is focused largely on the here and now—on enabling employees to complete today’s tasks more efficiently.

Many organizations are using cloud-hosted learning management solutions, which can reduce costs and increase availability of training. It is also prompting a move away from rigid timeframes and specific subjects to models that emphasize building competencies in small sessions over time. It’s making corporate learning more personal, customized and democratic.

Minding the Generation Gap

Much has been written about Millennials’ work and learning styles.  Common stereotypes are that they want career advancement but don’t want to work for it, that they’re tech-obsessed, and that they expect professional development but will not reciprocate with company loyalty. While Millennials themselves acknowledge that some of those stereotypes are based in truth2, the so-called “Me generation” is more complex than it is given credit for. Millennials grew up with technology—they are “digital natives”—thus it’s not surprising that they would expect tech-centered training options.

The larger issue, Rigby explains, is that CLOs believe that Millennials have no expectation of growth within a company, and that they will use professional development and training as a “springboard” to the next position, which may be with a different organization.

How can CLOs reconcile the dilemma?

By providing employees with a “license to operate,” Rigby explains. “By training them to do the work they’re needed to do.”

CLOs of today are not in the business of providing wide-ranging development courses so that people can excel in the boardroom.  Instead, Rigby says, they should aim to inspire people to make better use of the technology they have.

One way to start is by focusing on awareness and usage.  Most knowledge workers only use a small percentage of their technology’s capabilities, sticking with clunky, basic approaches that fail to keep pace with new solutions. Even a small amount of effort spent tracking, monitoring and improving usage will deliver a substantial productivity increase.  

As awareness and user adoption increases, so does the likelihood that users will face frustration with unfamiliar features and tools.  When problems are not addressed, user frustration can easily turn into aversion to adoption of new approaches. CLOs can minimize disruption and loss of productivity by implementing a system that makes it easy for users to get help the moment they need it.  An approach that’s customized to personal learning styles will increase efficiency and maximize engagement.

CLOs should also keep in mind that one-and-done training is not enough to sustain an increase in productivity.  To keep up with new features and capabilities, employee skills must be continually developed.  A systematic skill-building approach will enable end-users to stay current.

3 Tips for Training the Millennial Workforce

>  Let go of stereotypes.
Not all Millennials are lazy or gadget-crazy.  (And not all people born before 1981 are stubborn and set in their ways either.) These are generalizations that prevent CLOs from focusing on today’s training challenges and those that will certainly crop up in the near future.  According to the Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data, more than 1 in 3 U.S. workers are Millennials today.3  In a 2014 survey, Deloitte predicted that Millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.4  Millennials are not going away, so it’s best to at least listen to their terms.

>  Ignore the myths and embrace what works.
A key point to keep in mind when thinking about how to train Millennials is this: Although people born after 1981 may process information differently, their brains aren’t any different from those of earlier generations.5

Their brains may be the same, but their preferences are surely different and skewed toward the truncated. Instead of treating this difference as an obstacle, CLOs should see it as an opportunity to come up with new approaches to training that engage all the senses—for Millennials, Baby Boomers and everyone in between.

>  Meet them on their own turf.
Information overload, short attention span, an exponentially growing to-do list aren’t just Millennial problems—they affect workers of every age.  Some industry experts suggest that by reframing the “Millennial challenge” as a “modern learner” challenge, CLOs can create an approach that works for almost every employee.

In a February 2015 article for, writer Carol Leaman offers six ways to engage the “modern learner”6:

Provide web-based, on-demand training workers can access from their desktops, phones and tablets, in the office or working remotely.

Provide bite-sized, five-minute bursts of online training.

Use adaptive learning technology to make training
more personal.

Make training interactive, which enables people to take a more active role in learning—it increases participation, engagement and long-term memory.

Make it fun by incorporating game design principles such as leaderboards, stats and competition.

Employ techniques that use repeated retrieval—the practice of learning a concept, testing recall of that information, reviewing the concept again and then testing recall again. This approach can help to reinforce knowledge, short-term and long-term.

Millennials currently make up about a quarter of the global workforce, and in just 10 short years, they will represent three quarters of it. This generational workplace shift is one of the most significant in history, in part because of technological advances. They are the first to grow up immersed in technology, and their skills, learning styles and long-term professional goals are considerably different from those of their predecessors. By rethinking their approaches to training and professional development, CLOs can ensure their employees are equipped to lead their organizations well into the future.

1. According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial generation was born between 1981 and 1997; Generation X between 1965 and 1980; and Baby Boomers between 1946 and 1964.

2. In “Dear Corporate America: Stop whining and give Millennials what they want,” Huffington Post blogger Jenna Atkinson, a Millennial herself, defends her generation and makes a good case. Huffington Post, Oct. 31, 2014.

3. “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force,” Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, by Richard Fry, published May 11, 2015

4. “What Generation Y wants from business, government and the future workplace,” Jan. 21, 2014

5. “Teaching the Millennials,” by Jeff Nevid, Association for Psychological Science Observer, May/June 2011

6. “Go Engage the Modern Learners: Here’s How,” by Carol Leaman,, Feb. 20, 2015