Show me the way

A while back I wrote about the Myth of Gen Y. In that post, I was mainly making the point that treating Gen Y as a special category to be dealt with in organisations is the wrong way to think. In fact you should go off and read it before carrying on. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back. The development needs of the workforce are no different for Gen Y to any other generation. At the recent HRD12 held by the CIPD, there was a session I attended on Engaging Gen Y in the workplace. There were two interesting talks given from KPMG and Travelodge. As I said in the post, I think Travelodge have chosen the right approach to developing the new workforce of the future.

I want to take a moment to get us to think about how the L&D world seems to be tackling the Gen Y thing. I don’t think we’re tackling it at all, and this is partly a concern for me, and partly a chance to muse about if we need to. The main thing the Gen Y theory has been focused on, if we don’t engage them, we’ll lose them. Well, yes, I can see that would happen. But what does that engagement look like? Dig a little deeper into that question and what I’m asking is, what does L&D look like for this group?

And let’s dig further still. Am I supposed to train this group differently? Do their expectations of immediacy/feedback/collaboration mean I am behind the times in my delivery style? What about their learning methods? All this about digital being ubiquitous in their lives, what do I do with that? Am I meant to create a host of elearning courses that cater for their ‘when I want it’ attitudes? And social media, sure I’m active on it, but I look around, and half of these Gen Y’ers aren’t using it the same way I am, and many others I know. So am I using it wrong, or are they, or have we just not found a place to meet in the middle?

The nuggets I’m searching for have been few and far between. There certainly seems to be some good recruitment activity by various companies for this group, and that’s a good thing. But when I want to know what specific L&D interventions made a difference to the way this group learn, I am left desperately wanting. Adapting my delivery style and understanding the learning needs of the people I’m with is at the core of what I do.

Two companies come to mind, from recent exposure that tell me, yes, they seem to be doing the right kind of thing. The first is Travelodge and their management training programme. It’s aimed at school leavers, and gives them the opportunity gain real world experience at the same time as a solid career. The programme itself is worth applauding, but I heard nothing about the format of the courses, the facilitators of the event, outputs created, or anything which would suggest that I need to up my game.

The second is from a collaborative initiative with Google, Hyperisland and the IPA. It’s called Google Squared, and is a 12 week programme for young people in the media/advertising industries to gain a certificate in digital marketing. I know of the programme because we’ve sent three graduates from LBi to the pilot programme. They’ve come back raving about it, and how great the experience was, and what excellent learning they had. All great stuff. Yet, from what I gather, the delivery of the programme is no different to a well planned, collaborative effort in making the content highly engaging, relevant and meaningful. Give me the arsenal of the above three, and I could produce the same.

So come on. Tell me I’m missing something here. For all the hoo ha there is about retaining this generation for the success of the future, how do we actually do that? And don’t tell me it’s just about offering better coaching and mentoring programmes to them. Or that elearning has to form part of the mix. Or that line managers need better training. Or that they need better exposure to the senior people in an organisation. Those things are already in play by a lot of companies. Tell me that L&D is completely missing the mark in developing Gen Y, and what we can do to make it better.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

4 thoughts on “Show me the way”

  1. On top of the over-emphasis on Gen Y in your previous blog this is getting me thinking. I too fell into the trap of over-hyped differences, but I don’t like the distinguishing either. Not all Gen Y are like their stereotype, you’re spot on there. I work with lots of them and digitally, some people that fall into Gen Y are no way always checking out the latest apps or YouTube clips. So in respect to the Generation referred to as Y, what do I think L&D needs to do to up its game you ask?

    Firstly, remove the assumptive thinking as you are describing here. If anything a stereotype of Gen Y I DO subscribe to is they are an individualistic bunch – like what they like, wear what they want and say how they feel. So all the assumptions do no good as they are far away from stereotypes – they don’t all DO digital, go to festivals, are green, have no reverance yada yada.

    Secondly, and linked, L&D could listen a little more. Make patterns from the myraid of views, needs and demands. Open up conversations. Are they a “need it now” audience even more than other generations or are they “help me get it but don’t spoon-feed me” set of clients..?

    Thirdly, there is energy and optimism that may be more prevalent in Gen Y having not been battered into shape by the “estabishment”. Use that. Work with it; collaborate like crazy. And don’t try and be all Ali G and be down wiv tha kidz. Just be “real”.

    Fourthly, the increased exposure to mass media might be something younger generations are better as as they’ve grown up with it. Sir Ken Robinson’s controversial “Schools kill creativity” piece talks of not easily distracted more tuned into multiple channels. Fact or myth? I suspect the Gen Yers may be more “soundbite savvy” than previous generations. I don’t like to assume though as I’v said but it could be something inherent in the way they think and work.

    In my mind therefore, as long as L&D is challenging the assumptions you rightly flag and being curious and open about about Gen Y that’s a good enough start. We can create some dilemmas and have them help us narrow them – traditional class -v- blended online; intimate coaching -v- work it out collectively.

    Great and timely blog. Hope lots more people read this and help us form some key opinions here. Time for a contrary session at next CIPD conference – the Myth of Gen Y – I can see it now…

  2. I suppose with young people there is an opportunity to engage with them without having to wade through the cynicism and barriers that people often build up as they go through their working life. Catching them early to facilitate an understanding with them of what their potential is, could be, can be realised is what we can give them. But not catching them in a trap.

    The young people I work with and those in my family are beautiful because they are so excited, hopeful and full of their promise. I feel very sad when I see how our organisational system starts to suck that out as people’s life priorities change and their perspective changes and their needs change.

    Across all groups, I think L&D could facilitate a closer connection to real work, connecting different groups together, moving away from categorising people by age, grade, role for training and learning. There is so much labelling and grouping people together – why?

    Have groups of people across the organisation sharing their personal development activities and you create a connected organisation. Where people have the potential to be polarised through age divide, role, discipline, they are brought together.

    Get young people in the personal development space before they start managing and projecting their stuff on to their teams.

    L&D as change agents, faciiltators, curators – I don’t know what to call it – is perhaps what can grow from current L&D space. Something about working in the space that exists between people in the work place to bring it together.

  3. I think it can be convenient to label people. In some senses it enables orgs and managers to pass things on to certain groups. Do we see this with technology and Gen Y? ie they are good with tech, let them do it. You see that a lot in social media jobs.

    Interestingly, I went to a session at TrainingZone Live which looked at how Asos (80% gen Y population) is using theatre to help with interpersonal skills. Isn’t that counter-intuitive to the Gen Y steretype? (interview I did is here BTW

    How does an org really find out what different employee cohorts require? It asks. We need to set aside the stereotypes and understand what people need whatever their age and stage. And organisations need to learn from younger people just as much as they need to learn from organisations. Great communications are therefore critical IMHO!

    Great post, Sukh, and great comments too.

  4. A late comment. I am with you in the myth of gen y camp. Almost everything I read about what gY wants is simply about good and enlightened people management and L&D. It’s no different to any other generation. Although there can be more opportunity to create great teams and workplaces – I’ve found that when they haven’t yet experienced bad bosses, there’s an awful lot enthusiasm that is marvellous to witness.
    In terms of L&D I think it’s vital to give lots of responsibility and opportunity early on.

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