CEO Insider

Your training strategy is failing your young talent – but here’s how to reboot

Younger workers have had a bad deal at the hands of the media – with one popular meme blaming Millennials for the demise of everything from the Olympics to marmalade. But like it or not, today’s 20 and 30 somethings are the future of your business – and if they’re not already taking a place at your boardroom table, they’re not far away.

Fortunately, this demographic has a huge amount to offer workplaces of all shapes and sizes. They often come with native digital skillsets, they’re unfazed by disruption, and they’re comfortable working in the fluid way demanded by today’s global economy. However, much of this potential is untapped or, worse, personal growth is stagnated – largely down to outmoded methods of continuing professional development.

This challenge is multi-layered. In terms of knowledge, this demographic can search and filter data with more ease than their seniors, but lack the confidence to apply it: this is a significant unmet need.  Attitudinal shifts mean that younger staff also expect personalised and tailored on-the-job support – as they experience with the on-demand digital services they use to date, order takeaways, book taxis and put up shelves. Against this backdrop, conventional learning and development interventions feel too slow and too expensive to be really helpful. And line managers – themselves overwhelmed – lack the time, skills and competencies to effectively develop most talent (diverting attention into a few key over performers or underperformers).

But it’s not just a people issue, it’s a business challenge too. Learning and development interventions rarely come with clear metrics or insights about how effective they are – which would be unthinkable for other comparable functions, such as marketing, but which is tolerated for the $12bn L&D industry.

This failure is problematic in terms of the ongoing, long-term war for talent. Adaptability, according to PwC, seems set to be the most in-demand workplace attribute by 2030, yet few organisations have a point of view on how to identify and keep those with these hard-to-find multifaceted skillsets. Keeping and nurturing the individuals that demonstrate this attribute should be keeping savvy CEOs awake at night.

So, as CEOs, where should we focus our attentions to develop and retain this kind of Millennial or Generation Z talent?

Prioritise soft skills for success 

Younger workers are adept at navigating tab after tab of knowledge that’s available online. So, with this base covered, what do they really need? In our experience, learners want more than just information – they want to feel confident that the knowledge they have is being applied in the right ways. Confidence as a learning outcome isn’t something that most businesses consider – but nor are many other soft skills, such as problem solving, creativity, cross-silo collaboration, or ease of working across cultures – all of which will see a premium attached to them over the coming decade.

Blend people and digital 

Many eLearning providers will argue that digital courseware is the way forward, but we’re of a view that there isn’t a huge amount of new information concealed in this kind of learning. Digital platforms might make it easier for your younger learners to access content – but most of the information people need is widely and freely available online.

We recommend using digital as an enabler, to connect your developing talent with the coaches and mentors that can share their experience – easily and quickly. In this way, digital takes the pain, time and error out of booking mentoring meetings and training, while also letting humans do what humans do best, creating a person-to-person connection wherever they happen to be in the world.

Ensure the data demonstrates the value 

Learning is big business. Mentoring, MOOCs, coaching and conferences all add up, but it can be difficult to get a clear view on what’s really working – for employees , or for your business. Choosing learning solutions that help to build a picture of where your future talent pool is struggling, or where you have an opportunity to address these challenges at a systemic level in your business, should be a key decision-making factor. It’s important to choose partners that help evolve your learning and development portfolio, which forms a keystone of the employee value proposition for the 74% of employees who would be willing to retrain to keep their skills up to scratch.

In short, younger workers want and deserve better options when it comes to learning and development. Despite the tainted brush they are sometimes painted with, these individuals can add huge value to our businesses, bringing modern skillsets and adaptable working practises. If we are to retain this talent and ensure their full potential is realised, we must be sure to be equally adaptable in our approach to providing meaningful learning and development, something they want and deserve.

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Pam Bateson
Pam Bateson is the CEO of Thrive Partners, an on-demand coaching and training service that helps businesses direct their learning and development budget where it’s really needed.