Career Center Blog

July 12, 2011

Gen Y to employers: Your on-the-job training programs stink!


training.jpgMuch has been written about how Generation Y -- the under-30 crowd in the workforce -- has had to adjust their attitude in today's crippled job market. As Associated Press reporter Cindy Krischer Goodman (no relation) wrote last fall, Gen Y's demands for work-life balance and instantaneous career development have been replaced by a desire to remain employed and make valuable contributions to a larger team.

[Flickr photo by skilledwork_org]

But that doesn't mean Gen Y -- also known as millennials --  has lost its voice in the workforce entirely. According to a new study released by Workplace Options, an international provider of work-life and employee benefit programs, workers age 18 to 29 are saying loudly and clearly that employer training programs don't measure up.

How can corporate training programs meet Gen Y's needs? Seventy-five percent of millennials surveyed said they'd get more out of employer training programs if they could follow along remotely on their smartphone or tablet device. By comparison, just 40 percent of respondents age 30 to 45 felt the same way, as did 26 percent of respondents age 46 to 65. (More than 450 employed Americans were polled for this survey, which was conducted by phone in May.)

But Gen Y respondents didn't stop there. Six in ten of them said workplace training programs would be more effective if they were "shorter and less time consuming." Only 39 percent of respondents overall were in agreement, as were just 36 percent of respondents age 30 to 45.

"Workers under the age of 30 grew up with different tools and expectations than middle-aged workers and baby boomers," says Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options. "Younger professionals are more inclined to communicate and interact effectively through technology, so the standard model of one person lecturing to a room full of people may not be the most productive approach to reach this age group."

This doesn't mean on-the-job training isn't important to younger workers. It is. In fact, nine out of ten Gen Y workers surveyed said they'd "feel more comfortable talking to managers and supervisors" if their company offered internal communications training. (By comparison, just 67 percent of respondents age 30 to 45 expressed the same sentiment, as did 66 percent of those age 46 to 65.) Likewise, seven out of ten younger workers polled cited "the availability of personal or professional development training" as an important employee perk.

We can debate whether employers should update their training programs to accommodate the demands of younger workers until the next generation enters the workforce. But if you ask me, the real question has nothing to do with age and everything to do with embracing current technology. Given that a majority of workers rely on smartphones to stay informed and connect with others, why don't more employers offer smartphone and tablet versions of their training programs?

Gen Y may be the segment of the workforce complaining loudest about the outmoded, interminable classroom-style training sessions so many employers offer. But they're not the only ones in the workforce glued to their mobile devices round the clock. And they're certainly not the first workers ever to be bored out of their gourd by a meandering face-to-face presentation. So why take up 90 minutes of valuable employee time in a classroom setting if the same points can be made in a snappy 15-minute video that workers can watch on their phone at their convenience?

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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When I was young, I had all sorts of ideas for my employers too, but like everyone else, I had to come to terms that the traditional way they wanted to do business was not only valid, but useful to learn if I wanted to keep my job.

The disconnect that technology is creating is making young people start to realize that they need to work on communicating with human tools instead of their laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Working 'remotely' doesn't build relationships. I wonder if any of genX has ever heard the phrase "90% of business is being there."

"Gen Y workers surveyed said they'd "feel more comfortable talking to managers and supervisors" if their company offered internal communications training."

How do they expect to learn how to talk if all they want to do is stare into phone all the time?

Only people who don't understand learning think a snappy video is the same as group interactive learning and simulation workshops. While these might be done via technology, particularly with wide geographic distribution of the participants, my experience is that in-person participation is more effective and can be done in less time.

As mike said, Gen-Y would be wise to recognize that they and technology don't have all the answers, and an iPad is not going to help them develop the inter-personal skills they need to perform their work and sell their ideas.

It sounds a little more like Generation whinY to me. I hate to sound like an old fart (I'm more like a middle-age fart, thank you very much) but I do believe that a strong work ethic, a good attitude, and a desire to excel will get them farther in life and in their careers. Now you can get back to your shoving your head into your smartphone if you think that will do the trick - lemme know how that works out for you.

It's not about you or meeting your needs ... or whether training comes through an ipad or a traditional class. It's about what you can do for your boss or your customers. That's largely determined by your attitude, integrity, imagination, knowledge, work ethic and your ability to get along with people.

You can suggest a different way to conduct training (or any other facet of business) if you want. If you don't like the response...leave. Or start your own business.

In the mean time just be grateful you have a job.

All of the above are my thoughts exactly.

Business is all about relationships. Not just relationships with technology. Training involves interacting with others and seeing how others think. You can't get that while watching a snappy movie unless you read everyone's blogs about it afterwards! Which might take just as much time as a training presentation anyway.

Observing how others act during a training is also very useful for new employees to see how they fit into the big picture.

They can't observe that if they're not present and participating.

Also, how would it be verified that a training movie was actually watched remotely?

I'm well past being a millenial, but I can see one aspect where this is true. I always found training classes to be geared for the lowest common denominator...they were repetitive and boring and moved far too slowly. I'd have jumped at the chance to take them online or remotely, at my own pace, rather than suffer through 3 hours when I could absorb it in far less.

I'm a touch concerned you guys are all so busy whining about "kids these days!!" that you're missing the point.

Why, when we have the technology, are we sacrificing our employees' productivity when there are better means now available, in some cases, to train them? This doesn't mean we eliminate all classrooms and team-building exercises, obviously. But if it's just a lecture, it's probably smarter to do it in a way that works better for our employees.

Build character in your kids all you want or whatever, but as for my firm, we'll cut the 90 minute training and use the time to get projects to our clients on time and on budget. It's not about the kids and slogging them through "the traditional way of doing things." It's about delivering more effectively and more efficiently for our customers.

They tend to appreciate that more than they do making sure our employees understand work isn't always "fun." They don't care what our employees understand about work. They care that the job gets done.

If that means occasionally taking some advice from someone a little younger than me, then so be it.

Yes, I think the point was that live training, for many things, isn't as efficient as other forms of training. For many things, live training and interactivity is very good, but for a wide range of basic education that is common at companies, a simple, to-the-point presentation, combined with a scored test to ensure the worker got the point, is adequate. It saves trainer time costs and worker time costs.

Of course, sometimes it's necessary to get people in a room and have discussions, but I think the point is that younger people, who are more used to efficient communication of information, are frustrated with being communicated with inefficiently.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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