October 31, 2017

Continual learning is a culture for Gen-Y, and it should be for your business too

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Millennials (if, indeed, they exist) and Generation Y matter to the future of business. Why? Because there are more of them than any generation since the soon-to-retire Baby Boomers, and by 2020 they will make up over half of the workforce. In order to attract and retain the top talent within these innovative, tech-savvy demographics, it’s important to understand what they are looking for from an employer.

As it turns out, their demands are not that different to the generations that preceded them. According to Deloitte’s International 2017 Millennial Report, while they seek a higher degree of flexibility, fairness, and purpose from their work, Millennials are looking for security just like their elders.

One generational difference, however, is the culture of entrepreneurship and self-taught learning that exists within younger members of the workforce. Having grown up in an age of constantly evolving innovation, where knowledge is only valid until the next release, they recognise the need for ongoing learning. In fact, two-thirds of new graduates take a computer science course before they join the workforce. The young make learning a habit, creating a formidable force in business.

A generation of self-starters

The Millennial generation, born into a highly networked, always-on world, is a cohort of entrepreneurial thinkers. There were 80 new companies born each hour in 2016, organisations like YENA promote young entrepreneurs, and some of the biggest companies of all time were built by youngsters. Evan Spiegel was 21 when he founded Snapchat, Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he launched Facebook, as was Jack Dorsey when he published his first tweet. The influence such high profile success stories have on resourceful Millennials is clear: vloggers like PewDiePie rake in millions making low-cost videos from their bedrooms, music artists like Stormzy are building successful careers without the backing of traditional corporate structures, and Instagram influencers like Emily King and Corey Smith make megabucks endorsing brands.

KPMG paints Millennials as an innately curious bunch of job-hoppers, always searching for a new challenge. They crave knowledge and need information at their fingertips. Without access to learning, Millennials feel that their development isn’t seen as a priority.

When a Millennial feels unloved by their employer, they’re apt to look for the nearest exit. And when they leave, they leave: 93% of Millennials moved company the last time they changed jobs. However, they are three times more likely to stay with their employer for five or more years if they feel their skills are being fully utilised with challenging, meaningful work.

But entrepreneurial thinking doesn’t mean every young person wants to be an entrepreneur: they simply have an enterprising mindset. 70% of Millennials want a full-time, permanent job that offers them security and a fixed income.

Generating loyalty through a culture of learning.

A Gallup study found that 87% of Millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important - far higher than the 69% of ‘non MIllenials (the survey doesn’t clarify the age ranges here) who feel the same way.

Embedding continual learning into company culture can mean the difference between retaining young talent and losing it. But many businesses are missing the mark: only 39% of Millennials strongly agree that they learned something new and useful in the past month, and less than half strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the past year.

So what does it take to create a culture of continual learning that engages the younger workforce?

How to create a learning culture.

As with any element of culture, learning needs to be part of everyday life: formal lectures and one-off training events are not going to cut the mustard. Development planning cannot be contained to a once-a-year chat between an employee and their line manager - an ongoing discussion, frequent reviews of knowledge gaps and sufficient provision of on-the-job skills development is required.

Corporate performance consultants, CEB, explain that in order to create a continual learning culture, employees must have access to the right opportunities, capabilities, and environment.

Having the right opportunities is defined by the way in which content is delivered. Millennials are looking for a blended, flexible approach to learning - bite-sized options that are easy to jump in and out of at a time to suit. Utilising technology that know and love through e-learning can make a huge impact - for example, delivering online courses through YouTube or Facebook Live.

However, it’s crucial that learning opportunities are curated and personalised for the learner. Simply handing over a login for an online learning database is not enough: employees need to be guided towards relevant, engaging content rather than being expected to wade through vast amounts of data.

Having the right capabilities is about creating the conditions in which employees are able to learn by doing. Formal training is now known to be ineffective when used in isolation: research shows that 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% happens when observing others, and 10% comes from formal training. When this is accounted for in planned learning, employees are four times more likely to demonstrate a faster response to business change, three times more motivated, and twice as likely to report improvements in customer satisfaction.

Finally, it is essential to create a learning environment where employees feel safe to work through challenges in real-life scenarios. Mistakes and experimentation should not only be allowed: they should be accepted as a crucial part of learning. Taking time to learn should not be viewed as a luxury but as a priority: leaders must facilitate this mindset by encouraging and modelling the desired behaviour.

A culture of continual learning benefits everyone within an organisation: it generates higher levels of performance, increases employee engagement, and reduces staff turnover. In order to engage and retain Millennials and the workforce in general, learning must become an integral part of company culture. An open, honest, and frequent dialogue between manager and employee is crucial to embedding learning as an everyday activity. Utilising innovative approaches to delivering learning - in particular, digitally enabled methods - will help businesses to capture and retain the best talent.

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