The New Workforce Challenge: How Do We Train the Next Generation When They're Already Ahead?

Strategies to engage younger employees and adapt on-the-job education efforts

A group of millennials reviewing a textbook together
by Paul Norford
April 29, 2019

Traditionally, we [the current generation of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers] would teach the next generation the skills they need to be successful and productive in their jobs. But today’s young professionals (let’s call them Generation Y or millennials) are more informed than ever. They are competent and confident. They also depend on using technology and mobile devices as learning tools, and older peers don’t always know (or want to know) how to embrace this culture.

How can enterprises attract and retain a vibrant younger workforce that integrates with older employees who have spent more of their working lives without technology than with it? And how can we harness the next generation’s aptitude for technology and turn it into business gains?

As Bob Ashenbrenner noted in a recent blog, these digital natives have grown up with little or no knowledge of a pre-internet world, immersed in technology that’s been evolving rapidly ever since they swiped their first tablet as a toddler. They tend to have shorter attention spans and a mindset that enables them to use technology intuitively on the move and flip between devices, racking up impressive screen time.

Consequently, recruiting some millennials is a challenge in itself as they tend to be more selective about where they want to work and more interested in what companies can offer them. Technological opportunities may be deemed more important than perks like a pension. They expect tools for the job that work well, every time, made for mobile applications. After all, they feel lost without their phone (it’s rarely turned off or out of reach) and are accustomed to finding information, data and answers instantly. Flat batteries, flaky Wi-Fi or poorly written applications frustrate them endlessly. A workplace that offers modern tools fit for the job is a workplace to which they would be prepared to devote part of their career. A workplace that doesn't offer these tools will be shunned, so investing in mobile technology is essential to initiate and foster loyalty, as Bob emphasized.

It is also the key to bridging the workforce gap, keeping more experienced workers engaged so as not to alienate them whilst giving the new generation the mobile tools and software they expect. The right mobile tech will support existing workflows and processes so that a divide does not grow between the older and younger workforce. The invaluable knowledge and experience the near-retirees, for example, have accumulated can still be passed on, the tech savvy generation can access the tools they demand, and mobile technologies such as handheld computers, tablets, scanners and even 2-in-1 devices can be seamlessly introduced.

But younger generations can’t rely solely on their tech know-how to build a successful career. Nor will they fully develop critical skillsets in school. So how can industry and academia adapt to maximise the value of millennials’ unmatched technology competence?

Plugging skills gaps on demand

If something is holding up progress, this younger generation is adept and accustomed to finding an answer pronto and moving on with the solution.

So, when it comes to on-the-job training for millennials, the traditional classroom-based scenario with hard copy training manuals won’t suffice. They are used to diving into new technology or devices to get the information. This preference for learning at one’s own pace and discovering on the go is an important consideration for the continuing training of millennials and the generations that will enter the workforce after them (Generation Z and Generation Alpha).

“Just in time” learning is going to become increasingly popular on the education landscape. In response to the “always on” appetite for learning and short attention spans, bite-size, on-demand up-skilling is ideal. Online organisations such as degreed.com curate masses of content to hone skills that individuals or businesses need immediately. The wider education system may well need to adapt soon too. The curriculum for a three-year degree in “digital marketing,” for example, will be mostly out of date by graduation.

Despite their demands and culture shift, the next generation can teach us a lot. We must harness their curious and adventurous mindset, allowing employees company time and budget to “play” with technology. This will empower them to find new use cases for the technology and improve decision making. For example, they could decide whether a new technology is just a novelty or could serve a commercial purpose. With this in mind, we also need to stay on top of the emerging risks of technology such as breaching security, privacy, ethics and social responsibility. If we don’t educate future leaders about using technology in the right way, we could inadvertently nurture a new wave of hackers and cybercriminals.

There’s no doubt that millennials are introducing a mobile workplace culture that reflects modern society. This is the first time the older generation is unable to teach the younger generation using traditional methods. The winning strategy will be one that captures the knowledge of more mature workers and presents it in a way that younger, mobile workers can access whenever and wherever they need it, to remain engaged and productive.

We Want to Know…

Millennials: What mobile technologies tools do you expect on the job?

Baby Boomers and GenXers: What has your experience been with training younger workers? Have they helped you to embrace new technology tools to complement your unique skill sets?

Send your responses to blog@zebra.com or share them with us on social media.

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Paul Norford
Paul is an Evangelist and Sales Enablement Trainer, super-passionate on helping our customers and partners change the way they do business.
































































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