2013

Training in the 21st Century

Corporate training departments face an increasingly daunting task. Not only because they are attempting to train and educate senior and middle-age adult learners who, throughout their career, have been forced to participate in class room, online or video based training that is not engaging, not stimulating, ineffective or is not even close to the reality of what is experienced “on the job” – but because every year younger, more tech-savvy, electronically “wired” workers enter the workforce changing the functional dynamics of the workplace and how employees are trained.

Training departments are attempting to recruit, retain, and develop cross-generational workforces who often learn through different modalities and at different paces. The level of difficulty in recruiting, retaining and training the “right” type of talent for the “right” roles are growing, due to multigenerational workforces.

A growing percentage of younger workers desire to learn on the job, instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher, or reading curriculum and studying. But this is not ground breaking news; we have seen this trend growing for the last 10-15 years. 10 years ago, the Saratoga Institute completed a multi-year survey on employee turnover. Over 60 percent of employees reported that they left their job because of a lack of feedback and coaching. How many organizations within the retail and coffee industry have actually mastered the onboarding, mentoring or coaching process for new hires?

Companies like Starbucks have implemented a variety of training and coaching models over the years. Caribou is well known for its educational and training system and has historically created a workforce that is revered. But how do organizations truly win the war for talent and how do they educate such a broad, diversified multigenerational workforce?

Younger workers think, behave, act, and learn differently because they have been programmed to interact with information, knowledge, and each other using the internet, computers, devices, and games. They like being challenged and they like figuring out answers to questions or overcoming challenges on their own (if they are rewarded for doing so) or in a team environment – but only if they can pick their own team.

These workers are not intimidated by electronic devices or computer applications unlike a large percentage of the baby boomer workforce – they are quick to master devices with little training, they are comfortable communicating and connecting with others electronically, and a growing percentage of these workers have been trained to use computers to help them study, complete research, and learn.

K-12 schools are using computers and educational games to help educate and form the minds of young students. Using games to influence or accelerate the development of rote memorization skills or learning is starting earlier that kindergarten. ABCmouse.com is an online early learning academy that uses games, simulations, and other methods to help preschool – kindergarten children to master color/art/music/reading/math/science and other topics.

I often hear many older workers and managers talk about their young peers saying that “Their minds are wired differently…they are always on the phone, on devices, constantly…they understand this tech stuff.” I also hear these same workers complain that younger workers lack verbal communication and critical thinking skills, are too brash and rush into tasks, or often “try to feel their way through a problem” before asking for direction and help or researching the topic or issue before diving head on into the situation.

Is this behavior due to a lack of training or life experience or a lack of coaching and mentoring? Or could it simply be “the new normal” – a growing trend within a younger workforce that is manifesting because of how technology and the Internet are used as a crutch to replace a disciplined training and educational process?

How are corporate training departments going to address this new normal while still supporting baby boomer and Generation X workers? In my opinion, we must face the reality that our legacy approaches to employee training and even recruiting, rewarding, and retention must be examined and re-architected.

A week ago I was at a business conference where Hewlett Packard’s COO Bill Veghte and K.C. Choi HP’s Vice President, Americas Solutions Architecture, were speaking about the velocity of technological change and how it is impacting companies and workers globally. K.C. Choi referenced many quotes from author Nicholas Carr who is one of the most prolific authors of the 21st century. He has become one of a handful of authors who observes the impact of technology on society and constantly challenges and questions the status quo when it comes to the usage of the internet and technology in our world.

In Carr’s 2008 article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/) his main argument is that the internet might have detrimental effects on cognition that diminish the capacity for concentration and contemplation – directly impacting our ability to think critically, study, retain information, and perform over time.

Internet connected devices and computers have absolutely impacted 1) how people access and think about information, 2) how they use that information in their daily lives 3) how they use information and technology to behave, navigate and function within our society – to “learn.”

Corporate training departments need to harness the power of the Internet, mobile devices, tablets, and even games if we are to effectively influence and train the next generation of workers. Rote memorization is the foundation of mastering a game. Fun and rewarding games and simulations can be used to recruit the right type of workers with the right types of skills. They can be used to help employees master the basics of food service, safety, recipes, or even up selling and cross selling.

We can have blended training modalities operating within the same learning framework and experience! Young workers need help in developing customer service, communication, critical thinking, and coaching skills. Competencies that baby boomer and Generation X workers have developed over the last 20-40 years. A blended approach to training and coaching through gaming and live simulations (accompanied by digital materials accessed on any internet enabled device) can be designed so young workers can master the basics by leveraging (and sharing) their tech savvy skills while baby boomers and Generation X workers can leverage and share their communication, coaching and critical thinking experiences with younger workers through these games or live simulations.

As I said earlier, corporate training departments face a daunting task!

Re-architecting or transforming a corporation’s approach to training takes a big commitment. But let’s face it, the problem of training employees in a highly productive, cost effective, and scalable way is not going away – it will only get larger as more young workers enter the market if we don’t face the issue head on.

If a company is attempting to re-architect its approach to training I would suggest: 1) first focus on integrating the use of technology, gaming, the internet and social networks into your assessment and recruiting process – this an area that is easy to measure and easy to quantify the impact; 2) develop a rewards strategy that can be implemented and managed through technology – this enables you to implement changes that impact all employees in a positive way; 3) lastly, re-architect how you can implement a blended training experience that helps integrate multigenerational team members down to departmental or customer levels using games, online learning, digital materials, and live simulations (group role playing, learning or sharing).

This suggested approach should help to rapidly educate and ramp up new hires as they enter the workforce and is expected to reduce turn over and improve employee productivity while creating a well-rounded multigenerational workforce.

Mark DallmeierMark Dallmeier is the co-founder of LifeGames, creators of BaristaLife a new social game for the coffee industry
(www.baristalife.net). Mark has co-founded a number of software and services companies, is a well known management consultant and has held Chief Executive, Marketing, Strategy and Sales roles within multiple companies.

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