Millennials are educated; by some accounts, they are the most educated generation in history. But all too often, they are not well-trained.
It might be crossing the bridge from theory to practice: classrooms can be sterile places of learning without doing. In many situations, it seems that Millennials lack the soft skills that would make them effective workers. This void often gets disguised by complaints about entitlement attitudes, conflicting motivations, or a simple lack of conditioning through experience in a given field. Yet for all these popular grievances, even the most seasoned managers and storied organizations are scrambling to make sense of what all Millennials have to offer, how to tap that massive well of talent and ideas, and of course, how to buck the job-hopping trend and retain the great workers they manage to attract.
There is no question that their distinct priorities, backgrounds, and education are enabling Millennials to change the workplace as they dominate the new workforce. But if you are aiming to take advantage of the most educated generation in history, you will need to be prepared to make up some ground where their training is concerned.
Educated, But Inexperienced
Part of the problem rests in how degrees are packaged and advertised: typically, going to a university is sold as being key to getting a job. Few schools are nimble enough to keep their curriculum current with the latest developments in the field. The shelf life of a degree is much shorter than schools (or graduates) like to admit, and as employers know, even the freshest graduate has ground to make up in terms of turning that education into performance on the job.
Students might be forgiven for thinking their degrees make them valuable workers; that’s likely the message that drove them to school in the first place. Employers have less excuse for not recognizing the gap between what schools can teach, and what skills are needed immediately. You can wait for years for schools to start churning out graduates ready to hit the ground running and solve your particular problems, but you would likely be better served by approach your recruitment and retention strategy with the expectation that lots of learning will have to happen at work, continuously.
As a recruiter or HR officer, it still makes plenty of sense to invest in education. A degree indicates applicants have the capacity to adapt, to learn continuously, and bring all kinds of value and human capital to your team. And that, ultimately, is what you need: employees who are ready to keep learning not just about their field, but about your needs, your problems, and the solutions they can provide for you.
Training Isn’t Just for New Hires
With limited experience and professional networks, Millennials and recent grads can’t always make up the skills difference on their own. What they need is some help bridging that gap, learning job-related skills, hard and soft, that can help them realize their potential and focus on problem-solving.
Without this kind of employer partnership to shift from an education mindset to a training and performing one, younger workers and job applicants can be tempted to turn back to school to try to gain a competitive advantage, or pivot to better fulfill employers’ needs.
Yet at the same time, student loans (and the associated debt) have made Millennials a little gun-shy when it comes to furthering their education. That can make employers seem antagonistic: they demand experience, education, credentials, enthusiasm, but what are they offering?
Millennials want more than financial security, they want job security. In the modern era, that only comes from continuous learning. Making it clear that employee training is a priority for all workers can be a powerful perk. Everyone from the newest hire to the oldest team member can see how fast things change, and understand that staying relevant takes more than choosing the right degree path right out of high school. When you offer a training partnership, not just a job, you can improve both hiring and retention.
Fear of Irrelevance
As it turns out, the old and the young have more in common than they might expect. Both are afraid of irrelevance; aging out of a job, or being too inexperienced to land one in the first place. These fears are founded on the need to continuously train and grow professionally.
An employer that helps both demographics to become and remain relevant will have better success hanging on to those who are capable of learning the ropes and performing, even as their situation–and role–constantly evolves. Retention can thus be improved the same way as recruitment: look for learners who can become doers. Reward doers by supporting their learning. Ultimately, people value purpose more than money in their jobs and lives; fighting in a compensation rate cold war is a zero-sum approach to retention. Providing training is a win-win.
Being well-educated is a strength, because the modern job is in a constant state of flux: technology and society are changing so fast that the solutions in demand are also changing constantly. Keeping up requires both education, and training. The current university system offloads the expense (in terms of time and money) to students. If your organization cares about retention, it will reward this investment by providing the skills and solutions-oriented training that helps workers stay at the top of their game.
Edgar Wilson is an Oregon native writing on trends in health, education, and global affairs. He has worked in industries ranging from international marketing to broadcast journalism. He is currently working as an independent analytical consultant. He can be reached via email here or on Twitter @EdgarTwilson, and more of his work viewed through Contently.
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