Teaching the Millennials: Training tips that bridge the generation gap

By Carolyn Heinze

What’s the matter with kids today? Nothing. At least not if you know how to communicate to them. And, as Millennials rise up in the workplace, this isn’t an option – it’s just plain necessary.

Bruce Tulgan has authored a number of books on the subject, including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y (Jossey-Bass, 2009). He is also the founder of the consulting firm Rainmaker Thinking, Inc. based in New Haven, Connecticut. In discussing employee training as it relates to Millennials, he advised that it should be ongoing and, at least at first, intense.

What training methods are most effective when it comes to Millennials?

BT: Gen Y-ers want to hit the ground running, and on Day One, with lots of support and guidance every step of the way. I think the single most effective approach to training this generation may be that of the U.S. Marine Corps, which does an amazing job with brand-new Gen Y, and Gen Z, recruits. For 13 solid weeks, they provide an all-encompassing 24/7 experience. Of course, most employers can’t replicate boot camp. But, you can replicate some of the intensity, the connection to the mission, the feeling of shared experience and belonging to a group, the steady learning, and the constant challenge. It’s about taking Gen Y-ers seriously on Day One and every other day.

It should be noted, one of the biggest mistakes an employer can make is investing time, energy, and money in a highly engaging orientation program for Gen Y-ers and immediately afterward depositing them into a demoralizing no-support workplace. No matter how long and intense – or how short and mundane – your orientation process is, you cannot ever let Gen Y-ers alone to sink or swim. The longer you sustain the intensity and support, the more value you will get out of your Gen Y, and Gen Z, employees.

Gen Y-ers and Z-ers, especially the most capable and ambitious among them, push hard for more significant roles with increased responsibilities at much earlier stages in their careers. You can give Gen Y-ers meaningful work at early stages in their tenure if you commit to teaching and transferring to them one small task or responsibility at a time.

Conversely, what training methods are ineffective?

BT: One big classic mistake is using classroom teaching or one-on-one coaching to transfer knowledge to Gen Y-ers and Z-ers that would be more efficiently and conveniently learned by using search engines, menu-driven information systems, social networking platforms, and wiki collaborative tools.

Another classic mistake is assuming that the best way to train Gen Y-ers and Z-ers is to turn everything into computer-based learning. Lessons of experience, context and wisdom need to be learned from experienced, wise individuals.

Another classic mistake is investing huge amounts of time, energy and money in teaching Gen Y-ers and Z-ers to be able to take on a large complex role. This makes the training less effective and at the same time makes Y-ers and Z-ers frustrated that they are not getting to use their learning in real-world applications. Training and work need to be intertwined every step of the way; training for complex roles should be done one task at a time, with real-world application of each new skill-set as the skills are acquired.

In your opinion, how do organizations strike the balance between accommodating millennials and, at the same time, not adjusting their processes and methods so much so that it’s a detriment to the business? How do companies establish a “push/pull?”

BT: Well, my whole approach is that the work comes first. The mission of the organization is primary. The work you hire the individual to do that contributes to the mission is the centerpiece of the relationship. Work is a transactional relationship: The firm wants more work and better work out of every person; they want to push out the low performers, and keep the best people as long as they can. Most employees – especially the youngest, least experienced – want more money and benefits, more flexibility, more interesting tasks, more control over their schedule and their workspace, more interesting and pleasant colleagues, etc. The manager’s job is negotiating those competing needs and expectations every step of the way. That is the fundamental challenge of all management relationships.

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