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Achieve Intergenerational Learning at Work

Jan. 14, 2020
Organizations must ensure they are adapting to give different generations in their workforce everything they need to succeed.

How many generations can you name? Probably a few, especially the ones before and after your own. Some generations are growing in the workforce while others are retiring. Harder than naming them is understanding their differences. Much is already known: Retiring Baby Boomers are affecting the economy. Generation X individualism contrasts with team-minded Millennials. Millennials are digital natives, shadowed only by Generation Z.

What is not straightforward about different generations are the differences in how they learn in the workplace. Understanding and optimizing learning in the vegetation management (VM) industry is critical, as training is paramount to safety and business success. What employees know or don’t know matters, so helping them learn in a way they are familiar with translates into success. Let’s look at a few generations and what can be done from a training standpoint to ensure their success.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) learn structurally. Those still working are best served in classrooms. Boomers represent 33% of the workforce, but around 10,000 will retire daily until 2020. The challenge for soon-to-be-retired Boomers is helping them to understand the needs of later generations, who they must prepare to take their place.

Generation X (1965-1980), or Xers, grew into individualistic learners with little computer interaction. They prefer self-directed education and group learning as opposed to book learning. Opportunities for Xers to choose their path is critical. On-demand training, clear growth paths and external coaching are helpful in developing Xers.

Millennials (1981-1996), or Generation Y, are the first significantly digital generation. Computers and mobile devices increased information consumption and shifted interaction from personal to personal-via-digital. Earlier generations lived to work, but Millennials require more guidance. They enjoy teamwork but need flexibility. Learning should be short and on demand.

Generation Z (1997-present), or iGen, is now entering the workforce. This presents an opportunity to fine-tune training for Gen Z, whose members benefit from flexible learning over multiple technologies, primarily mobile. While much will be digital, collaboration and human connections should be encouraged.

Bridging the Gaps

With one generation exiting, three generations spanning a range of education preferences and a new one generation joining the workforce, it is critical to consider learning opportunities. Learning styles can be boiled down to the following:

  • Individual, including classrooms, reading materials and exercises
  • Collaborative, including workshops, group activities and interactive projects
  • Digital, including e-learning, online workshops, videos and mobile apps.

The amount of work required for style-specific education, safety and other corporate services would be tremendous. For this reason, it is important to develop cross-functional training as much as possible. Most training in the VM industry occurs in groups to maximize institutional knowledge and technological skill sets. Xers and Millennials are open to collaborative training and, with Gen Z coming into the picture, using collaborative learning from the start can establish it as an expected learning mechanism.

At ACRT, we have noticed Millennials quickly adapt to using software and technology specific to the VM industry, despite inexperience or unfamiliarity. Recently, a team of Millennials was trained alongside other generations on how to teach contractors about new utility VM software. The Millennial employees quickly absorbed the technology-related training. They listened to the other generations they were training with to better understand the types of questions older generations would ask during field training.

The Gen X participants picked up on the Millennials’ aptitude for digital platforms and applied it through collaboration—one of the ways in which Gen X learns best. Together, both groups not only learned the new software through their preferred methods but also learned how best to train contractors—from different generations—to use it in the field.

Foundation for the Future

As generations change, one’s organization does, too. Organizations must ensure they are adapting to give the different generations in their workforce everything they need to succeed—and to lay the foundation for future generations.

By combining learning styles, teams can gain an appreciation for how others learn while strengthening knowledge through methods that satisfy their learning preferences.

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