Chris May, MD of FXL, a FMCG Management Training Company, argues that a different approach needs to be taken for Generation Y as a result of one key invention – the internet. 

When planning company training programmes, HR managers in all industries must address the fundamental challenge of engaging and maintaining the interest of all participating staff. While the principles behind many training methods have stayed constant over time, the ways in which they are executed has evolved in order to keep pace with the changing nature of the British workforce, and much of this change has been driven by the emergence of Generation Y. Half of the world’s population is aged 30 or less, and this group of young, tech-savvy workers is a rich source of talent for competing employers. But it represents a challenge as well as an opportunity to HR professionals, many of whom still rely on traditional processes and training methods.

A defining characteristic of Generation Y’s members is that most have never known a world before the internet. The implications of this are far-reaching and can seriously affect their approach to HR and training activities. In all aspects of life, Generation Y expects to use the latest technology on the market. Therefore, if HR professionals are to maintain a competitive edge, they must update their methods accordingly, embracing the technology available and taking advantage of Generation Y’s affinity for all things new.

There are many practical steps companies can take to do this.  As a start, all administrative processes should be digitised where possible. Thanks to tools such as Wikipedia, Generation Y is used to having the world at its fingertips, so resources and reading lists should be accessible online, as should APPs and electronic feedback sheets. Fun fact – if Wikipedia was a book it would be 2.5 million pages long.

Of course, human interaction is key to HR, and there are times when face-to-face meetings are essential; but for other everyday contact, videoconferencing can represent a happy medium. Generation Y members use technologies like Skype and FaceTime in their personal and professional lives, so they will expect to use similar audio-visual communication in their corporate training.

Another effect technology has had on Generation Y is the shortening of individuals’ attention spans. Although, there is also an argument that, rather than having a shorter attention span, its members are simply more demanding about the way in which they digest information. They need to feel that facts are presented in an effective manner, otherwise they will find it difficult to feel engaged.

Whatever the reality, as information online is consumed frequently and in small doses, training programmes should follow the same pattern, engaging trainees in short but stimulating sessions. The world sometimes seems like a smaller place thanks to the internet, and, more than ever before, young people think of themselves as global citizens. Training programmes should not be limited to British-based content, but instead should incorporate international references to reflect this growing sense of internationalism.

The idea of a training session that stops at the end of the day is also a thing of the past. Effective trainers now form relationships with their trainees that extend beyond their initial meetings and lead to follow-up support in the days and weeks after (Facebook can be an effective platform for this and two people join LinkedIn every second.) If you have bought an Apple product recently, you will understand this. The process begins in the shop, where informative assistants tell you all you need to know about your new product. Then, once you’ve taken the product home, you have ongoing support and the option of attending further training workshops. That’s the kind of flexible, useful service that Generation Y expects from its HR departments.

This is the reality that companies employing and training growing numbers of young, tech-savvy men and women face. It’s not just about the structure and content of training programmes but also their presentation, and this must now be modernised to impress a generation for whom digital is the norm. We are already seeing the beginning of this process as more HR departments integrate technologies like QR Codes and Augmented Reality into their courses.

A word of warning, however: the catalyst for these developments is the entry of Generation Y into the workforce, but their more mature colleagues – Generation X – must not be forgotten. Care must be taken to ensure that entire workforces progress together, and that training intended to develop professional expertise doesn’t in fact result in the creation or widening of a skills gap. Above all, line managers must be given the same training as their younger counterparts so that they don’t lag behind.


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