Quietly and almost unnoticeably, employee education practices which had been in use for decades have become obsolete. While existing practices may still be relevant to some employees, for a growing percentage of our workforce, including Millennials, Gen Z, and others, these practices have become less relevant and even a hindrance.
By 2014, 36% of the workforce was comprised of Millennials. This means that over a third of your workforce grew up in a world where instant communication and accessible, affordable technology were a given, a thing to be taken for granted.
When it comes to work-culture – the new workforce is different. Being constantly connected and used to immediate feedback, they bring a quick and vibrant rhythm to professional environments. They are digitally native, often preferring to communicate via Hangouts, chats, and instant messaging rather than over emails or phones.
Chats are actually a good example of the Millennial pace: short, laconic, and efficient – i.e., bite-sized. In addition, their world is very quick and active – just like their use of instant messaging solutions, which allow them to chat with several people at the same time and accomplish more -- despite being unable to fully dedicate their full attention to one single task.
How do these demographic and technological changes affect employee education practices? To fully understand the implications, we must analyze the digital habits of our target audience:
What do these habits and norms imply about employee education methods going forward?
Catering to the education needs of these new employees requires a paradigm shift. For starters, we need to understand and respond to these needs more attentively. In today’s employment ecosystem, when employee churn rate in the US is pushing 15%, employers are working full force to engage employees during the onboarding stage.
Education is a significant aspect of that effort.
In a world where one doesn’t actually need to learn how to use new software, because it is designed to appeal to your intuition and familiarly recognized patterns, we cannot afford to waste resources on complex, in-depth instructive courses. PDF documentation and knowledge bases begin gathering dust while quicker, more agile solutions are gaining momentum.
Our new education and learning methods have to be quick, up-to-date, flexible, and above all – they have to provide exactly what the users need, when they need it, even before they are aware that they need it.
Apart from being your major work force, it must be noted that these new age groups are very stable employees. Despite living very ADD lives, they are very much “here to stay” once they join your workforce. If you remove the hurdles to their entry and ongoing activity at work, you will find them among the most dedicated employees who wish to better their environment and to move the business forward.
This new generation thinks quickly, responds quickly, is productivity-driven, and its members seek to grow with you.
In an “employee market”, where quality employees are hunted by recruiters, Millennials and Gen Zs are usually your best evangelists (as there are very few boundaries between their “work” and their “lives”.) They will drive your business forward and drag anyone who refuses to come with them, kicking and screaming, into the digital future. These are the people you want at the helm, so invest in them, and start with investing in their education.
How can we manage this profound change in education methods? We need to understand that these new users are “conditioned” to approach new software interfaces in a natural way, rather than having to learn how to use it. They don’t feel a need to be trained in using software, and we waste valuable time (theirs and their colleagues’) by making them study it.
What we need to provide them with is an agile, transparent experience for mastering new software, without actually teaching them how to use it. Rather than explaining how to use a new product, we should provide them with a platform that helps them navigate such a product and pick it up as they go along, as part of their work schedule, when they actually need to use each feature.
Our guidelines for this change of approach should be:
With that in mind, employers should commission a dynamic, visually communicative, and easy to handle education plan focusing on the following elements:
Interactive – Users in 2019 expect software to talk back to them, at least enough to understand their specific needs and preferences. Interactivity is a critical element in keeping users engaged and allowing them to learn at their own pace.
Contextual – Context in education is important, not only in terms of the software, but with regard to the user. More and more software is built on algorithms that learn user behavior and actions in order to customize the experience accordingly. Education programs can’t be any different. Context is also important to help users navigate their education by telling them where they are in the process and assisting with time management and productivity.
Proactive – The shift from passive education to proactive education is also a product of technological advancement. Many software implementations are less successful than they could be because users don’t always activate the support mechanism. A proactive approach that identifies weak spots and offers assistance bypasses this challenge.
Measurable – Data-driven, analytics, Predictive Training...these are the elements at the core of every business that survived the 2008 financial crisis. The data from education – how successful an implementation is, how much resources are being invested, etc. – is immensely valuable to the big picture, and should be aggregated wisely, and segmented even more wisely.
Bite-sized – Returning to the work culture and attention span of our target employees, the millennials – education should be regarded like chat conversations: concise, efficient, and accurate. Supportive education content can contain only “so much information”. There is no use in overwhelming users with stuff they won’t use instantaneously.
Remember when we made the leap from the Stone Age corporate methods to a digital world (we no longer use a Rolodex to manage contacts, you’ve replaced your filing system with a CRM, and email has replaced the sticky notes on your desk)? For your Gen Z and Millennial employees, you need to make a new leap. Applying new technology - just as in the previous leap - is not a “nice to have” but rather a necessity.
Organizations need to change their education methodology to include new interactive education solutions with rich content; don’t expect your employee to remember their initial education (when they joined the firm) or to seek guidance in a PDF manual.
Rather give them “how-to” videos which can be accessed when needed. Organizations need to make sure content is relevant and always available to their workforce; don’t expect an employee to dig through educational material that includes content that is irrelevant to them or to their concurrent needs; rather provide them with support that is user specific and relevant to their “here and now.”
In an interview for CLO Magazine, Kelly Palmer, CLO of LinkedIn, stated that “Learners today are overwhelmed by content. Learning technology should reduce their stress by curating and personalizing features to get them what they need exactly when they need it.”
Kelly also stated that while LMS platforms can manage education, they are no longer sufficient as the platform which delivers the content itself. The market is responding in queue by delivering more and more adequate solutions. We see a rapid growth in education technologies which offer richer content, product specific guidance, and personalized education material.
To remain competitive and reduce the time and cost spent onboarding their workforce, modern organizations have started to implement these new personalized education solutions. Doing so not only increases profit; it also puts them in a position to be considered attractive employers. Modern organizations are focused on ensuring employees don’t get frustrated and remain happy in their day-to-day interaction with the multitude of tasks they need to complete.