Business Solutions
5 Top Techniques for Engaging a Generationally Diverse Workforce

5 Top Techniques for Engaging a Generationally Diverse Workforce

The other day I was having a discussion with someone who is more than 20 years my senior. He remarked how complex and difficult business and life has become. Things are being done so differently and technology dominates the marketplace. He admitted to being a technophobe and for the most part either unwilling or unable to make use of the various technologies that so many of us take for granted. It is challenging enough to get him to use his cellphone for much more than taking and receiving calls, as well as texting.

This got me thinking about my own parents and how they have had to adapt to this brave – or cruel – new world; depending on how you view it. Is life really so challenging? I watch my nieces, who are 3 and 4 years old, and they manipulate a tablet almost expertly but they are three generations further along than their Baby Boomer grandparents. Everyone is on a roundabout of learning and business, which does not stop and just seems to gather momentum with each passing generation.

The whole concept of generational thought, values and learning has fascinated me for a long time now, and particularly how this translates into the way business is done. Just as some businesses and products have become obsolete, so too are the ways in which people learn. No-one would dream of starting a typewriter business in 2014.

Few trainers would even consider using a blackboard and chalk – crikey, even flip charts are starting to be frowned upon. Let’s rather annotate notes and digital information on our tablets, touchscreen laptops and smart whiteboards. Let’s immerse ourselves in augmented and virtual reality. Or is this just the thought of Millennials and the emerging Connected Generation?

I would like to suggest that to answer the question of “Is life and business really so challenging?”, we will need to understand what the last three generations – the ones currently holding the majority of positions in the working world and those retiring from it – hold dear in terms of their values and ways of learning. If we had to generalise we would say that Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials) differ enormously based on these two simple factors.

Baby Boomers are post-WWII optimists, who believe that through hard work alone one can succeed. Generation X’ers are sceptical, informal and self-reliant, and have thrown away much of the formality of their parents. Millennials are stereotypically realistic, but also believe that without having fun, a structured and clear set of expectations as well as social networking, you may as well tie their hands behind their backs and blindfold them.

These same principles can be roughly applied when training a diverse group of adults. The way we like to do business tends to be a strong indicator of how we like to learn as well. Generational affiliation is just a guideline, though. Trainers need to consider every little facet from the clothes they wear to the educational approach and training tools that they use. This often has to be done on-the-fly if the composition of a training group is not known beforehand. There are still several ground rules that can be applied to encourage maximum participation and value for everyone between 18 and 65 years of age in the classroom:

  1. Set ground rules from the beginning: Baby Boomers believe strongly in following the rules and these same rules will create focus that Millennials need in order to concentrate.
  2. Be creative with seating: People tend to gravitate towards those most like them. Creative rearrangement of seating in a learning environment, such as having participants count off and divide up reduces in-groups and promotes a more positive and innovative learning dynamic
  3. Share your credentials and experience: Trainers who are younger than the participants they are training can gain credibility by sharing their experience and background. This does not mean that you won’t be on the receiving end of challenging questions. You should also be prepared to demonstrate your expertise as Generation X’ers and Millennials do not grant trainers instant credibility.
  4. Do not judge based on generation: Often generalizations and stereotypes are not reliable. Learners are, at the end of the day, individuals and there are many other factors other than generation that affect learning style. Focus on the value and unique experiences that each generation has to share, and encouraging them to do so can set the stage for success.
  5. Use a variety of media and training tools: It is very easy to fall into the trap of using only one or two types of training tools. Engagement comes from a reasonable distribution of old and new technologies and training methodologies. If the learners are not engaged and interacting with the facilitator, each other and the subject, you will lose them.

Training has never been so complex as it is now – and by extension the world of work is equally complex. The pace that we are all expected to operate at has become frightening. The principles are essentially the same, however. My nieces were born at a time when the pace of life and learning is far quicker than 60 years ago. For them this pace is normal and they do not know any different – so they flourish. My parents and their generation are used to life being less frenetic. They can adapt to business and learning but it is going to require the roundabout to be slowed a little for them to get on.

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