As companies vie for professionals from generations X and Y, one of the things they’re discovering is a high — and perhaps unexpected — level of interest in development opportunities. A question often asked of these potential employers is, “What can you offer that will give me career mobility?” And their answer frequently will determine whether or not they’ll get the talent they need to compete.
Hence, the ways companies promote these learning offerings is crucial. As leaders in the industry evaluate how to position their development programs to younger workers, they should consider a few questions, such as “What are the learning preferences of these respective groups?” and “When it comes to how they like to learn, how different are generations X and Y?”
R. Morris Sims, vice president and CLO of the agency department at New York Life, thinks he has an answer to these questions. He believes the differences between the two are negligible and that the real divide is between the baby boomers and the two successive generations.
“There are a number of distinguishing factors between [generations X and Y], but from a learning standpoint, I tend to lump them both together,” he said. “I believe the similarities outweigh the differences, especially when it comes to learning preferences and styles.”
According to Sims, the main learning characteristics of the two generations are as follows:
1. They are receptive to new technologies, but don’t necessarily prefer technical modalities.
2. They favor hands-on, engaging and experiential development over static, passive experiences.
3. They desire a choice of how to consume learning content, rather than mandated participation in a particular program.
As far as differences between the two groups are concerned, Sims acknowledged that many experts feel Gen Xers are more inclined to be independent learners (due to the “latchkey kid” phenomenon), whereas employees from Generation Y are more apt to be communal learners (due to their propensity for social media). However, he said he hadn’t actually seen this stark contrast between the two generations in his experiences.
With these traits in mind, Sims said learning executives should promote their programs as vehicles for self-discovery and improvement.
“When we put things out here for employees, I’m constantly trying to get personal development opportunities to them,” Sims said. “Training to help them improve in their job certainly must take place, but when I’m building a curriculum for this group, I really want to position it as something that will help them in their lives.”