In May 2015, the workforce in the U.S. quietly passed a huge milestone. Millennials—adults ages 18-34—surpassed Generation X as the dominant force in workplace demographics, according to a Pew Research report. At more than 53 million strong, Millennials are the largest demographic group ever, edging out the previous record-setter Baby Boomers.
What does this mean for you as a manager or HR professional if you’re trying to build a learning culture? That depends on how you react to change. For Millennials, learning opportunities aren’t just a nice to have perk—they are an expectation.
Bright and Creative Employees
This generation is also more mobile than previous generational groups, so you have the challenge of retaining the best and brightest. And you’ll have to find a way to satisfy Millennials’ drive for career development while also managing learning opportunities for other groups in today’s multigenerational workforce.
Fortunately, the cultural shift you’ll need to make to accommodate the newcomers’ expectations and also keep more seasoned employees satisfied will be good for all demographic groups in your workforce—and great for your company. This is a win-win for all generations at work.
By making a serious investment in your employees’ future with the creation and availability of learning opportunities, which in turn can lead to internal career development opportunities, you’ll set the stage for the company’s long-range success.
Establish Clear Links Between Learning and Performance
Employees need to understand that an ongoing desire to learn is highly valued and that a capacity to engage in learning long-term is an essential part of their continued improved performance at work. Integrating learning into daily operations is the key—this ensures that learning isn’t just a one-off event but rather a core part of the culture.
Make Sure That What Employees Learn Is Applied
Once links between learning, performance, and outcomes are established, managers can support the learning being applied on the job by following up regularly on what the employee is applying, doing differently, etc. To make sure new knowledge results in behavioral changes and better employee results, managers will require coaching tools to help them work with employees to achieve desired outcomes. You can reinforce this learning through praise, positive appraisals, and frequent reinforcement.
Make Learning a Strategic Initiative
To function as a tool that heightens employee engagement and increases productivity, learning has to take its rightful place as a core strategic initiative. Communicate what learning and skills are required to support the company’s strategy, and tie all learning opportunities to those goals.
Create a robust, ongoing performance management process that fosters collaboration between employees and managers and makes learning from feedback part of everyday life. Give employees the tools to identify skills gaps and strengths and map the findings to learning opportunities - and monitor progress along the way.
Identify Subject-Matter Experts
Another way to deliver learning opportunities to employees is to harness the skills and knowledge of subject matter experts and implement knowledge-sharing programs across the organization. With this approach, you can easily link learning activities with core competencies and measure program impact.
Make Employees Accountable for Their Own Learning
Employees today see their relationship with employers in less paternalistic terms than previous generations. They expect access to learning opportunities as a partner in the relationship, but a partnership is a two-way street.
So it’s perfectly fair for companies to hold employees accountable. Be clear about who owns what and give them responsibility for their own development—and the tools they need to advance.
Research shows that employee learning and development programs can improve engagement, preserve institutional knowledge and increase productivity. Bersin by Deloitte research found that companies with a strong learning culture outperformed peers by a significant margin.
But it’s important to build a strategy deliberately: CEB Global estimates that ineffective training costs businesses $145 billion each year.
A major workforce demographic shift presents an excellent opportunity to refocus your learning and development strategy and build a strong culture of learning. By following these five tips, you can make knowledge transfer and skills acquisition a daily part of the job—and set your company up for long-term success.
Dominique Jones is known for her straightforward approach, driving excellence in execution, and building exceptional teams.