How to train gen Z employees

Understanding the needs and expectations of generation Z, the latest cohort to enter the workforce, is fundamental to get workplace learning right

As any smart employer knows, workplace learning and development (L&D) is vital to nurturing and retaining your most valued staff. Yet organisations are having to rethink their entire approach when it comes to teaching gen Z employees.

Born between the mid-1990s and early-2000s, this cohort has grown up in the digital age with apps and instant messaging on tap and Facebook, YouTube, Google and Amazon as their lodestars. Naturally, they expect services they receive elsewhere in life to be just as consumer friendly, flexible, personalised and engaging, and that includes education.

Corporate training has had to evolve to meet these needs, but still has a way to go. As research from the digital learning consultancy Ludic found, more than a quarter (26 per cent) of employees do not feel in-work L&D is personalised enough.

Using tech and gamification in learning

So how do employers craft effective training for this group? Andy Lancaster, head of L&D at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), concedes that it’s a challenge because of this demographic’s expectation of instant communication and collaboration.

“They’ve been weaned on apps and are independent, so you need to have learning experiences that reflect that. They also have shorter attention spans, so you need to think of learning in bite-size chunks,” he says.

Most importantly, they do not view technology as something they use, but part of who they are and that applies equally in the workplace. For this reason, employers have been turning to mobile and social networks and more adventurous edtech tools that use things such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence to create more immersive and responsive learning experiences for gen Z employees.

One of the biggest trends has been gamification, perhaps in a nod to the huge success of video games among the millennial and gen Z cohorts. But it is also about building the idea of competition into workplace learning.

Advocates say gamification allows learners to test ideas in safe scenarios, and rewards participation and contribution. But Doug Stephen, senior vice president of the learning division at CGS, an American corporate training provider, is not convinced. He says gamification has been top of many firms’ wish lists, but could “lose a bit of its lustre” in 2019.

It’s not just about gen Z, it’s about how all our lives are changing and how organisations mirror that in the workplace

“Game mechanics often prioritise winning over other objectives and gamification alone cannot meet the needs of a diversified business. For gamification to be successful, it needs to be supplemented with other L&D programmes,” says Mr Stephen.

CIPD’s Mr Lancaster agrees gamification is just one of many useful learning tools available to firms and, despite gen Z’s tech savviness, more traditional methods such as face-to-face classes are still highly effective.

Is social learning key for Gen Z employees?

One of the most popular techniques to have seen a resurgence over the last few years is so-called social learning, which at its essence is the continuous process of learning from your colleagues. This might mean getting staff to write blogs, starting internal discussion forums or creating micro-videos or podcasts featuring colleagues providing expert advice.

A company offering social learning solutions is US platform Panopto, which helps firms to record, live stream and share their own L&D videos across the organisation. That might mean getting a sales rep in the field to use their smartphone to record newly discovered information or tactics their colleagues can use during upcoming sales calls.

Or it could mean getting your firm’s technical support staff to use smartglasses to record a hands-on view of installing complicated equipment so new technicians can familiarise themselves with the technology.

As Panopto points out, the main benefit of a social learning environment is it enables employees to take responsibility for their own personal learning while leveraging the expertise around them. It can also be done on a just-in-time basis, so learners get exactly the information they need at the point they need it. This works well for gen Z employees who are used to receiving things on demand.

L&D must change for everyone, not just gen Z

Hundreds of millions of gen Z employees are set to enter the workforce over the next few decades and, as research shows, they are less likely to be loyal to their employers and more likely to switch careers than previous generations. So while offering the right sort of training for this group may prove challenging, getting it right is vital.

Mr Lancaster says firms will need a mix of solutions to achieve their goals and should invite learners to be part of the design of any training programme.

It’s important to remember that the influence of gen Z has already stretched beyond the cohort itself and is affecting workers of all ages.

“It’s not just about gen Z, it’s about how all our lives are changing in a more general sense and how organisations mirror that in the workplace,” Mr Lancaster concludes. “We now access information in a completely different way and L&D has to reflect that.”