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Dealing with Gen Y learners

dealing with gen y learners and participants


If you are a trainer then you probably had them in class before and definitely will in the future. Gen Y are the young workforce of today. Are you ready for them?


Who are Gen Y anyway?

They were called so many names, “Millennials,” “The Internet generation,” “Generation why,” “Generation next” They are the youngest generation in today’s workforce entering the workplace learning environment. They are those who were born after 1980.


What are they like?

Many people sought to classify Gen Y and put all people of this age group into a box, when in fact Gen Y is not a group of homogenous clones. It is made up of individuals with a wide range of skills and behaviours. In recent years there has been much publicity about how different this generation is from previous generations (Generation X and Baby Boomers). Gen Y is often negatively and inaccurately classified as consisting of disenfranchised, antisocial technophiles with short attention spans and poor communication skills. Overall there is a consensus that Gen Y has grown up in a very different environment to previous generations, they come to the workplace with different skills and lack some skills as well. Like previous generations they are motivated by different things however, Gen Yers think differently about learning and development, they also have a different approach to work relationships. These differences when combined with all the recent advances in technology and communication suggests that there is a demand for new ways of working and learning.


Gen Y characteristics related to learning and tips for trainers:

      Having witnessed legendary success stories such as Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook and creators of Twitter, WhatsApp and others, they are very ambitious and eager to move their careers forward as fast as possible.

      Having grown up with technology, in general they feel more comfortable with it than older generations. They need technology and rely on it.

      Gen Y craves public recognition for work well done. Young learners also react well to motivational activities that embed them in the culture and exploit their interest in entrepreneurial activities.

      They like information that is presented in sound bites, they have a greater need to be entertained, have fun and love rewards such as prizes for participation.

      Gen Y has grown up in an era of equality of status and like their trainers to assume the role of a ‘peer’ or a ‘friend’. They value people who listen to them although sometimes they may have a somewhat forceful communication, over-confidence and lack of teamwork.

      Today’s younger learners have learned to be self-reliant with independent problem solving skills. To function well within the work environment, they need to be involved in learning experiences that will help them develop the interpersonal and team skills they may lack.

      Gen Y needs development in soft skills, particularly face-to-face behaviour. Office etiquette, respect, teamwork and other interpersonal skills are important areas for development.

      One of their names is “Generation why” because they always want to know the reason why they are being asked to do anything so provide and introduce challenging activities with scaffolding to support and always make sure you explain and highlight the reasons behind each activity and make sure the link back to the workplace crystal clear.

      One major difference between Gen Y and previous generations with regards to learning and development is that they are not shy to demand high quality learning that meets individual needs. Previous generations had the same needs but often did not ask.

      Look for opportunities to create networks of multi-generational groups. Reverse mentoring or group projects allow others to get to know each other and learn how they can help each other.

      Be open to new ideas from this generation. There will be some great nuggets of gold in there.

      Don’t assume all Gen Y are technical geniuses. Don’t lump them together because of one experience or what you have seen or heard in the media.

      Look at how you educate. Does it really work? Is it appropriate to the business? Is it designed for the way people want to learn? If not, change it – to the benefit of all generations.

      It is symptomatic of this youth culture that it is all about immediacy. They [Gen Y] don’t have the time to even consider emergent learning, like this will make sense later on. They want it to make sense there and then, now, immediately.”

To meet the learning needs of this younger audience, trainers need to increase the speed and interaction of the training, make the training more relevant and give learners more options and choices, use more technology, think of creative activities to bring social media to the training room to make training more fun and engaging for Gen Y.

Concepts adopted from research findings by Ashridge business school, UK

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