How to Engage Gen Z Learners in the Workplace
Just when we’ve absorbed everything we need to know to design and develop effective training for millennials, along comes a new, demographic group joining the workforce. For the last of the baby boomers, these new or recent hires are not their children but their grandchildren!
Welcome to the opportunities and challenges of creating training for Generation Z. “Zers,” as these “youngsters” are called, are your colleagues in their early 20s. They are as described as more optimistic, more financially conservative and more independent than millennials. Perhaps most tellingly, Zers are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history and are enrolling in college at higher rates than their millennial predecessors.
Zers are tech-savvy and more digitally connected than their predecessors. By the age of 20, most have captured hundreds if not thousands of “friends.” They can type faster with their thumbs than the rest of us can with all 10 fingers. Gen Zers have never known a world without the internet and mobile technology. Ninety-eight percent of them own a smartphone, and many can use up to five screens in any given day. Somehow, they manage to keep each of their digital plates spinning.
As Gen Z enters the workplace, the pressure is on to understand who they are, what they value, and how they differ from millennials, Gen Z and baby boomers as employees and learners. Unfortunately, much of the existing advice on appealing to Gen Z relies on trendy ideas, and as most of we training professionals know, bells and whistles get us only so far.
How Does Gen Z Learn?
Zers are eager learners who spend a great deal of their online time learning on their own. In a survey conducted by Google and Ipsos, 80% of Zers said that YouTube helped them become more knowledgeable. Generation Z also prefers active learning, with 51% indicating that they value working through examples as a learning method. While the rest of us waste hours failing to assemble furniture by following inscrutable instructions, Zers are using scanning through YouTube videos until they find one that fits their learning preferences and needs.
Generation Z also expects learning to be customized to their needs and preferences, an expectation that’s partially due to the customization they’ve experienced from brands marketing to their age group.
Engaging Gen Z in Workplace Learning
We hear a great deal about Zers’ short attention spans. Yes, Zers (like most of us) like punchy, visual, stripped-down information, delivered as if the instructional designers were sitcom writers. But dismiss Zers as fireflies trapped in a jar at your peril. We’ve all searched for specific content — say, how to lead a high-performance team — and gone down a digital rabbit hole to a web page peddling glow-in-the-dark team visors. Zers are likely to create a personalized network of websites and pages, because they treat content curation as if they were neurons creating new brain networks.
What leaps do we training professionals need to make to engage Gen Z learners? Consider these strategies.
1. Make Learning Customized and On-demand
Gen Z employees grew up in the on-demand era and want training content available anytime, from anywhere and on any device. According to 2019 LinkedIn Learning research, 43% of Zers prefer “a fully self-directed and independent approach to learning,” yet only 20% of learning and development (L&D) and human resources HR) leaders plan to offer employees this level of independence.
The more adapted your courses are to each employee’s role and required skills, the more engaged Gen Z learners will be. Some organizations are even starting to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze user data to determine learner preferences and customize training content and course design.
2. Make the Content Relevant
It’s essential to tailor your training content to the specific skills your Gen Z employees need to succeed in the workplace. In fact, according to LinkedIn Learning, 76% of Gen Z professionals feel that the skills necessary in today’s workforce are different from the ones required in the past.
We must help Zers develop evergreen soft skills like interpersonal relations, communication, conflict management, emotional intelligence, time and stress management, strategic planning, critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective decision-making. According to David and Jonah Stillman’s book “Gen Z @ Work,” almost 40% of Zers are concerned that technology weakens their interpersonal and communication skills.
3. Make Content Bite-sized and Easy to Consume
There’s a statistic floating around the internet that Gen Zers have an average attention span of only eight seconds. This statistic is somewhat misleading. It’s not that Zers are only capable of paying attention for eight seconds; rather, eight seconds is the time it takes them to decide whether a piece of content is interesting and worth their time. They have highly attuned attention filters and are used to short-form, highly visual content. We should design training accordingly.
4. Focus on the User Experience, With an Emphasis on Mobile
The user experience should be top of mind when designing for Gen Z. Nothing turns off these learners more than enduring click after click before actual knowledge and instruction begin. According to one Gen Zer, “If I have to press more than three buttons to complete a task online, I won’t do it. It takes too much time.”
Avoid starting training with fancy title screens, abstracts, learning objectives, overviews, disclaimers, agendas and welcome videos from leaders (useful for making fun of inexperienced teleprompter readers). Give Zers an open-ended dramatic or what’s-in-it-for-me hook to engage their attention and interest.
Ideally, your learning management system (LMS) is accessible from a smartphone and has social learning capabilities. For an agile generation with rapid exchanges of information, a secure digital meeting site is an excellent way to share questions, issues and content. Social learning also includes wikis, where all generations can build their own learning resources. (Of course, it’s best if a seasoned employee, manager, or L&D professional monitor social learning sites.)
You don’t need expensive technology or gimmicks to engage Gen Z learners. Instead, understand how they already use technology to learn, connect and gain new skills. Take into account their design and user experience preferences. Make training more learner-centric and interactive. Convert trainer notes and slides into engaging, multi-platform, online learning. Don’t assume that content that worked in the past will suffice. Invest in video and high-quality instructional, interactive and visual design.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll engage Zers and be miles ahead of the competition. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be so successful that you’ll be ready for the next generation entering the workplace, regardless of what it will be labeled.
This article originally appeared in Training Industry.