Boomer vs Millennial: What You Need To Know About Training Across Generations

Your Millennial employees are so techy, they’ll just learn organically. Wait, what?

Discussing generational stereotypes and the need to conduct training across all groups. Make sure to check your assumptions.

One of the awesome things about hiring Millennials is that you can save a fortune in technical training costs. After all, they practically came out of the womb knowing how to run a computer. It’s so much easier than those Gen Xers or, worse Baby Boomers, who you have to thoroughly train on each new system, right?

Well, if that doesn’t get your stereotype hackles up, this will: It’s not even a stereotype based in truth. While it’s true that Millennials learned to use computers much younger than your older employees, they aren’t that great at it. In fact, a recent survey of global Millennials showed that US Millennials’ tech skills were “absymal” compared to their global counterparts. Abysmal.

It kind of blows that theory out of the water and demonstrates that you can get yourself in trouble as soon as you start making assumptions about your staff. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t make assumptions based on race or gender, but age kind of seems harmless. After all, everyone knows that Baby Boomers are like this and Millennials are like that. Except when you do that, you can get into some pretty silly situations.

Everybody needs training.

Even if you have an employee that is incredibly techy and has learned other systems in a flash, throwing someone in without proper training can be a recipe for disaster. While many systems have lots of things in common, if it didn’t have changes it wouldn’t be a new system. Even people who have successfully self taught, don’t necessarily know the best way to do something. Training can help with that.

Averages aren’t absolutes.

It’s absolutely true—on average, younger people learn faster than older people. But that doesn’t mean that 45 year old Jane will learn slower than 22 year old Callie. 62 year old Carol may be the fastest learner of all. When you’re planning your training planning, you need to be flexible enough that when your employees don’t fit the average, you can adjust for that. Don’t just keep plodding along when it becomes clear that Carol already knows what she’s doing; likewise, don’t push forward when Callie is stuck.

Make sure people understand the whys.

The stereotypes say that Millennials need to be able understand why you are asking them to do something, while the other cohorts will just follow along. Even if that is the case, everyone wants to know why and it will make them better students. If your training makes it clear that “when you understand how to program this way, you’ll be able to do projects like this,” not only will they want to know how to do it, but they’ll know what questions to ask. Because the questions will be relevant to the end task, the training will be much more effective.

Not treating people based on age is the law.

You can certainly do things differently than your company has done them in the past. You can also respond to employee requests, but if you operate based on the stereotypes and averages you read about on the internet, you could be in a world of legal hurt. If you think your younger employees will be better equipped to learn something new quickly, and therefore, don’t make training available to everyone, you could run afoul of age discrimination laws. People over 40 are considered a “protected class” which means you need to be especially careful that you’re not giving special treatment to your Millennial workers and leaving your Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in the cold. It’s not good for business anyway—you want the best people learning and doing, and the best has nothing to do with age.

When you’re developing your plan to train your employees, are you doing so based on stereotypes or based on the reality of your company? Granted, if you’re trying to figure out how to train all 5000 employees, your approach will be different than if you are working on a program for 5 people in a single department. But, if you’re working on those 5 people, consider who they actually are and not what generation they are in. You’ll get better results.