Gen Y to HR: Don’t tell us how to learn

Best way to onboard Gen YWhat is the one thing you can be sure your youngest employees straight out of school know how to do? Anecdotal horror stories suggest that sometimes their knowledge of corporate culture isn’t up to snuff. Certainly they won’t be subject matter experts on your firm’s processes and proprietary tech, and a few might not even have honed basic work skills like communicating professionally in writing. But there is one thing they clearly couldn’t have gotten this far without – knowing how to learn.

Recent grads come to your organization with at least 13 years of school under their belts, most probably with an additional four years of college as well. You’ve hired your young employees because you obviously believe they have the ability to absorb, synthesize and utilize new information and that their school success demonstrates this. So why now take all input and control away from them when it comes to learning on the job, asks Australian firm Dachis Group.

Sophie Carter, a consultant with Dachis, took to the company’s site recently to report preliminary findings of research she plans to present at a conference called Teaching and Learning with Vision in November. Gen Y, she writes, have “convinced HR, recruiters, line managers and whoever else that they knew how to learn quickly, that their limited experience could be applied across contexts, that their formal learning was a great starting point for a successful work-life with their new employer. Do we assume that they did this with no awareness of how they learn new things best?”

Experts in information consumption

Your youngest employees may know little else but, “controlling how they consume information is something they’re expert at,” Carter continues. By hemming them in with passive induction and training programs that demand they simply sit still and listen or click a ‘yes, I understand’ button on an informational slide, you’re disengaging this group right from the start:

As part of my research, Gen Y professionals indicated that having the ability to exercise some control over their learning experiences at work helped them to feel more involved in the learning as opposed to being dictated information. Having some choice about the way learning took place also helped some young professionals feel that the learning they were being asked to complete was valued by the organization and not just something that needed to be delivered, consumed and ticked-off for compliance at the most basic level. Feeling valued even in a learning experience is an expectation that Gen Y bring to work and one that should be acknowledged.

One size does not fit all

Todd Hudson of Maverick Institute, which focuses on helping organizations get the most out of training, agrees, according to this webinar available (after a free but complicated registration process) on His main point is very similar to Carter’s: “Organizations need to move away from the ‘one size fits all’ onboarding approach, personalize the learning experience and utilize the digital skills that are the defining characteristic of millennials.” And Hudson also stresses that companies need to “lead new hires to take responsibility for their own onboarding.”

Minimize the hours or days of talking heads, stacks of boring forms and unstructured scrambling to assign tasks, and use technology, mentors and creativity to give young hires a clear path to follow to get up to speed. Then send them on their way with a degree of self-motivation and autonomy to navigate the resources you've made available.

Should trainers and HR pros responsible for onboarding empower Gen Y to engage and shape their own learning?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user English106, CC 2.0)

London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for

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