Millennials – or digital natives – will comprise more than a third of the workforce by 2020 according to a research report by ManPower Group. Born with an intimate knowledge of technology and how it operates, this generation is not only comfortable with its use but also with shaping it. With more access to information than any predecessors they have the ability to inform, take part and create the online narrative way never seen before. For businesses, this means that as candidates and employees, they have developed a very different mind-set; one which values on the go, self-paced learning and access to the most sophisticated resources available.
It used to be that many employees went to University and received formal learning that would give them a solid grounding for their career path and an elevated salary. Once in a career, learning was on a need to know basis. However, technology and regulation has vastly changed and disrupted many industries and business models. This has meant that the returns on a formal education are less clear. As process, machinery and technology changes, what was once learnt may have to be unlearnt and learnt again. That’s not to say that formal education is not important - it still correlates with higher pay in the long run, the argument is that Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is now the most crucial.
At the same time job roles are changing – reinforcing for millennials the fact that they need to be multi-talented, with an understanding of more than one discipline. Data scientists, augmented reality specialists, agile officers and health informatics officers – all of these new job roles reflect the ever changing digital landscape and the fact that businesses are seizing on new technologies and data to radically change their business models, create new services and generate efficiencies. The role of data in businesses has long been debated but its impact has been recognised by the millennial generation.
Graduates are savvy to the need to expand their skill-sets beyond their traditional disciplines and continue to develop new skills during their career path, whether they are relevant for their current job role or for the future. Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based start-up that analyses labour markets by scraping data from online job advertisements, found that the biggest market demand is for new combinations of skills – what its boss, Matt Sigelman, calls “hybrid jobs”.
Another example is a bump in graduates learning how to code. Graduates have understood the power of the digital language and its application for optimising marketing technologies. It’s not surprising then that the same Economist report found that in America, 49 per cent of postings in the quartile of occupations with the highest pay are for jobs that frequently ask for coding skills.
While some businesses may see the fast paced, evolving need for learning as a challenge, it really should be viewed as an opportunity. The benefits of satisfying the millennial generation’s thirst for knowledge are beneficial for the business. If businesses can get ahead of competition to offer the most engaging L&D programmes and compelling content not only are they able to up-skill their staff quickly, but importantly, they are able to attract and retain the best talent.
This may cause some L&D to rejoice – surely this must mean then, that early recruits will come with a willingness and readiness to learn, and that they will be engaged? For recruitment leaders, this should then mean that the skills available on the market are finally catching up with demand? Yes and no. The millennial generation may put more emphasis on self-paced learning, but they also then have raised expectations of the learning that a company will then deliver. If the learning content does not deliver, neither will they. From a recruitment perspective they want to know that continuous professional development is taken seriously by their prospective employer and that technologies are in place to help them achieve their ambition. From an L&D perspective, compelling, searchable, personalised and optimised content that aids self-paced development will empower this generation.
L&D leaders need to reimagine how learning interacts with its users and recruiters need to be able to understand how L&D fits within the company’s proposition for its candidates. Technology itself will be the key to mitigating learning challenges and the business disruption it has caused. Recruiters need to understand how CPD fits in as part of the business’s proposition for candidates and how to highlight key elements of any program in a way that they will find compelling.
L&D leaders will naturally turn to eLearning solutions optimised for mobile to satisfy the need for learning on the go. However, these platforms need to be designed with the user experience in mind to inspire personal learning. The platform chosen should be substantiated by exhaustive research of who the users are and how it can tailor the experience to different generation’s needs. For example, platforms that enable content search capability, seamless discovery and personalised learning recommendations on the homepage will also help learners to go on a journey of discovery of relevant content and self-paced learning. Customised curated channels that adapt to learners’ specific needs after a short self-assessment help with personalisation. Home pages where learners can track their goals, launch recommended and popular content, and follow designated learning paths often keep learners motivated.
A question of experience
Due to the evolving needs of the workplace, the platform needs to be able to adapt to the way its users search, understanding that searches will vary in nature. A powerful search engine that learns a user’s needs and preferences as they search, and can respond to those in kind, will engage and encourage learning progression.
To remain competitive, and to deliver skills to the front line, businesses must focus on creating the ideal user experience – one that enhances a personalised style of learning. This should replicate the frictionless, ease of use experience employees are familiar with, and, that comes as a result of the consumerisation of technology. Bringing this experience from outside, in, on a platform that understands its users and their generational motivation, will be the key to a CPD plan that works for all employees.