Swipe Right for Success: Adapting Corporate Training for Gen Z
Generation Z, or GenZ, is a remarkably unique generation when talking in terms of their expectations, approach to life, outlook on related ecosystems, personal expression, and digital nativeness.
McKinsey puts it out excellently when they say that Gen Zers are:
- More pragmatic about their career progression
- More interested in inclusivity and support from community
- More individualistic
- More politically and socially active
- More environmentally conscious
- More readily interested in spending to enrich their day-to-day experiences
When you consider all these characteristics, the notion of providing corporate training also gets influenced to a certain degree. What we're essentially looking at is an educational experience that:
- Provides career-driven training
- Fosters an inclusive learning environment
- Facilitates personalised learning paths
- Promotes an eco-conscious curriculum
- Provides experiential learning sessions
The idea of adapting corporate training revolves around the above key facets and all other associated nuances that support the individual learning needs while keeping organisational goals and vision in focus.
But before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the changes that enterprises should look to usher in their training programs, let's develop a more granular understanding of Gen Zers' characteristics and how they present an "accommodation" challenge for traditional corporate training initiatives.
Characteristics of Gen Z
While numerous stark differences and subtle similarities can be drawn between Gen Zers and the generations before them (especially Millennials), some key characteristics are central to comprehending how enterprises can go about altering, modifying, or altogether changing their corporate training programs for continued success. Here's a rundown of such characteristics:
Back in 2018, a study outlined how Gen Z students used up to five screens (compared to Millennials using three). These screens, which included smartphones, tablets, and laptops, accounted for 10 hours of viewing time daily – bringing down the attention time of Gen Zers to a mere eight seconds.
Why are all these quantifications important in the current discourse? For one, they explain how Gen Zers "demand immediate satisfaction." Second, they elucidate that Gen Zers want to be a part of what they're doing. Essentially, they want to be "active learners."
Of course, there's the whole concept of being "digital natives." The pervasiveness of technology means that Gen Zers want the technology stimulus to keep them on board with what they're doing. And that bodes well, considering how a lot of desk-specific jobs have transpired over the past two decades owing to the digital revolution.
We stressed how Gen Zers are concerned about inclusivity and are more socially and politically active. In 2019, the Pew Research Center highlighted how the inclination towards social and political issues among Gen Zers is a lot similar to that of Millennials.
But things become interesting when we consider how such "inclinations" transform into key elements of personalities that could, well and truly, shape choices and preferences in the corporate sphere. And this might be more intense than the previous generations.
Consider this: in a recent survey, about 70% of Gen Zers (between the ages 13 and 17) opined that there's a close association between social causes and their preferred careers. About 54% (between the ages of 18 and 25) had the same opinion. They argued that "helping the community" is central to their idea of a "successful career."
Such focus on social issues also brings elements like diversity, inclusivity, transparency, etc., to the limelight, which are central to the success of modern-day workplaces.
Researchers from the National University of Singapore stress that Gen Zers "are digital natives who prefer an independent learning style with less passive and more visual and kinaesthetic learning."
The move towards visual learning can be partly attributed to the rise and improvement in eLearning as well as the need for quickly upskilling to adapt to the evolving market. Gen Zers are faced with challenges regarding increasing competition, rapidly evolving technologies, and workflows becoming obsolete. So, it's understandable why they're focused on more interactive and technology-backed learning methods.
LinkedIn, in its 2023 Workplace Learning report, reveals that people between the ages of 18 and 34 are highly influenced by growth and learning opportunities within an organisation when choosing a job opportunity. They immensely value opportunities for skill-building and continuous learning.
The Problem with Traditional Corporate Training
"The brands that are winning are more creative, more authentic, and faster to market with their content." - Analysts at McKinsey.
This applies to learning as well. Enterprises that can accommodate the above characteristics can potentially elevate employee engagement and retention levels. However, they can't do so while relying on old adage learning practices. Why so?
Well, there's a wide disconnect between what traditional methods espouse and what Gen Zers need. In fact, it won't be an exaggeration to say that traditional corporate training methods and Gen Z preferences are on the opposite sides of the learning spectrum.
Consider this: traditional corporate training has often:
- Relied on lecture-based, linear progress
- Invited period evaluations and end-of-course assessments
- Advocated for text-heavy manuals and presentations
- Fostered infrequent group discussions and brainstorming sessions
- Followed a one-size-fits-all approach
- Preferred a fixed pace of learning
- Relied on the theoretical quality of discourse
But how do Gen Zers want their training to be? If we were to refute all the above points in line with Gen Z preferences, the outcomes would look a bit like this:
- More interactive and dynamic content
- Real-time evaluation and feedback
- Bite-sized modules supported by multi-media
- Frequent discussions and collaborative learning
- Personalised learning paths
- Self-paced learning and even on-demand resource access
- Real-world simulations and hands-on experience
Indeed, the disconnect is significant! Much of this problem can be attributed to the reliance on old adage classroom learning methods and not leveraging data to drive decisions by figuring out what actually works. Back in 2014, research found that undergraduate students who were subjected to traditional stand-and-deliver lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail.
It's not that organisations aren't aware of such discrepancies. In 2017, Business Wire predicted that the corporate online learning industry will grow by 250% by 2026.
In fact, David Faro, Senior Manager of Workforce and Business Development at the National Restaurant Association, says, "The generation that we're training now knows that information should be quickly available at their fingertips in an easily digestible format. When they need to know something, they go online with complete confidence that they will find the information they need. Training should be the same way." (LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report)
But the problem lies in realising a good corporate training program that can:
- Accommodate the Gen Z preferences
- Keep the organisational values, mission, and goals intact
- Continuously evolve and improve
- Take into account evolving regulatory compliance
- Ensure that upskilling and reskilling initiatives become successful
Right now, the rigidity of corporate training acts as a substantial deterrent to realising these objectives and embarking on the notion of adhering to Gen Z expectations.
The Importance of Adaptation
As seen above, adaptation is key! Investing in updating the corporate training models and applying them to Gen Zers can positively impact the organisation's reputation, as the value proposition offered would serve to be a win-win for both the employees and the employers.
Employers would benefit from reduced turnover, better productivity, increased employee retention and loyalty, and eventually, a more satisfied customer base. Employees would benefit from better job satisfaction, greater job security, better work-life balance, improved working conditions, etc., as well as less time spent away from work.
All the while, organisations would also be able to absorb the pressure of constant regulatory compliance and changes in consumer preferences. So, how exactly should organisations go about making this transition?
Strategies for Gen Z-Focused Corporate Training
Here's a rundown of some of the strategies that can help you achieve a win-win, adaptable corporate training program.
From leveraging interactive apps and platforms to subjecting to the use of AR and VR, Gen Zers are technologically adept and vastly prefer technology-backed learning methods. So, it's only natural for organisations to use technology as a means to support the various objectives of their corporate training initiatives.
The good thing is that the applicability of such technologies spans industries and verticals. For example, field service agents can be trained using AR manuals on how to go about servicing machines when on the client site. Elsewhere, employees can benefit from interactive quizzes and challenges associated with the use of the company's products. With the use of VR, they can amplify their participation, enter virtual boardrooms, and receive feedback on their verbal and non-verbal cues.
Of course, there's the gamification element that comes in really handy for improving learning engagement. About 90% of employees in a study affirmed that gamification amplifies their productivity. Elsewhere, an analysis revealed that employee engagement is improved by 60% through the use of gamified elements in corporate training. Indeed, the impact of technological interventions in making learning more user-friendly is substantial.
Flexibility in corporate training stems from the ability to design learning programs in a way that allows individuals to choose the pace and path of learning that best matches their workflows, interests, and needs.
The fundamental premise behind Gen Z's preference for flexibility is found in their desire to fully control the resources they access and take a more active role in the learning process. How can this be accommodated? In concrete terms, by:
Short, focused segments of learning – that's what characterises microlearning. Given how Gen Zers thrive on bite-sized chunks of information, the use of microlearning should come in handy. Through its use, organisations can divide content into modules and deliver them easily and quickly through numerous devices.
Instead of having to wait for the right time, Gen Zers would rather take charge of their learning and access resources and information when they want. So, organisations should allow them to access the resources through apps or interactive learning platforms. Their Learning Management System (LMS) should, therefore, accommodate centralised content repositories and bridge them to various tools or channels that would deliver the content whenever needed.
While Gen Zers are open to using technology as a means for accessing information, they do not want to be treated in an impersonal manner. So, corporate training programs should be designed in a way that allows enterprises to customise the delivery of content and resources to suit each learner's learning style.
Personalised learning means tailoring the pace of delivery, sequencing the learning content, tailoring the delivery platform, etc. As such, learners should be empowered to choose the best approach at any given time.
As mentioned above, Gen Zers highly value connection and community. At the same time, they want to be empowered to co-create with organisations. To meet these objectives, corporations can begin by:
- Introducing team-based learning experiences
- Encouraging peer-to-peer interactions
- Carrying out mentorship programs
- Providing various community and co-creation opportunities
- Creating communities for learning, sharing, and receiving feedback
- Establishing value-sharing models
- Converting competition to collaboration, where it makes sense
- Sharing data openly and transparently
- Practising open innovation to help solve pressing problems within the organisation
- Fostering employee engagement and making them aware of the potential for collective impact
Enterprises today are increasingly being pressured to incorporate social responsibility in their corporate training strategies, and rightly so. The implication? That companies must find ways to align their business goals with their social goals. The good news is that Gen Zers are all for this, as elucidated above. Companies can begin by using a simple three-step strategy to incorporate social responsibility into their corporate training programs:
– First, they should conduct an assessment of their current initiatives and benchmark themselves based on best practices that have been implemented elsewhere. This will help them identify the areas that need improvement.
– Second, they should assess the effectiveness of their program by measuring its impact on business performance and social goals. This can be done by ascertaining the inputs (training methods, materials, etc.), outputs (learning outcomes), and KPIs associated with corporate training programs.
– Finally, they should gather feedback from all the stakeholders involved by setting up a concrete feedback mechanism. Based on this feedback, they should foster a culture of continuous improvement. In this way, they can make the necessary changes in the workplace and feed them back into training programs as required.
Other than these, corporations can also provide day-to-day opportunities for Gen Zers to learn about ethics and social responsibility.
Setting up corporate training for success in 2023 requires more than just a means to deliver information. Enterprises must go granular in understanding their requirements and how they can be best translated through the use of personalised, interactive content.
What should stand out in the process of adapting corporate training to Gen Zers is the effective application of technology and the incorporation and implementation of both qualitative and quantitative feedback.