A major driver of the power shift comes from the desire of younger workers like millennials to grow their careers by quickly developing new skills. Many are quitting their jobs in the process, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. This young segment of the overall workforce — the largest segment, by the way — is the most educated in modern history, they’re adept at digital skills, and they’re hungry to stand out.
This desire places the onus squarely on L&D’s shoulders. You’ve seen the headlines about the “Reskilling Revolution,” how reskilling and upskilling dominate CEOs’ priority lists, quickly moving L&D leaders to the front of the executive table. Now it’s time to rise up to the challenge to retain young, ambitious talent.
What themes emerge from the latest research, and what can L&D leaders do to retain the best and brightest?
Employees want more flexibility.
Things have changed significantly in recent years, and one of the greatest changes has been employees’ expanded options to work wherever they feel like. The range is extreme: Young workers have moved away from bustling cities to Caribbean islands — these are the “digital nomads” giving tax professionals everywhere splitting headaches — and others want to move to quieter exurbs, while others simply want to be in the office less.
Deloitte noted in its latest Millennial Leadership Survey that 25% of millennials said they would “like to work in the office ‘a little to a lot less often.’” In fact, millennials and Gen Zs rated flexibility as the most critical employee characteristic for successful businesses. This shift toward flexible arrangements to support so-called hybrid work has led to prominent organizations like Google to redesign their office buildings or just buy new ones.
How can L&D help? Offer more flexible ways to learn.
Not only have the ways people work changed but also the ways they learn. Employees expect learning platforms to be as nimble as their consumer products. People listen to podcasts while they do the dishes or weave through traffic. They watch videos on their phones while putting on makeup. They read articles and newsletters over a cup of morning coffee.
Modern LMSs and LXPs must adapt to these preferences and modalities. The most innovative platforms offer quick course creation tools with modules ready to embed multimedia content like articles, images, audio, and video.
Young workers want to stay on the cutting edge with new skills.
Job skills and roles change more quickly than they ever have. Young workers deeply understand this. They’re often more well read on fast-moving topics than their bosses. Consider how much more the typical 20-something knows about advances in technology like blockchain or cryptocurrencies than does their 50-year-old boss. Of course, experienced bosses often know much more about the business feasibility of these topics, and these technologies may be years away from becoming overly useful.
Younger workers have mastered the language, culture, and tools of burgeoning industries, and they often see further down the road to where advances can overlap with their skills and the needs of the business. For example, Andreesen Horowitz’s new media arm called Future posed a probing question to many young leaders across a wide array of industries: “How is expertise being redefined in the modern era?” Several emphasized the growing need to decentralize information so “experts” can arise from lower in the hierarchy. In other words, just because someone doesn’t have a particular title or experience doesn’t mean they don’t know a thing or two from which the rest of the organization could learn.
That’s why it’s important for learning platforms to embrace a tech-agnostic approach with their product development.
How can L&D help? Use tech-agnostic platforms to keep up.
As fast as things change, the best many L&D leaders can do is to free up their learning platforms to embrace plugins, integrations, and embeddable content for any type of technology that your employees use.
For example, suppose your organization grows in its data-driven decision making, and some employees feel inspired to learn Python, one of the most popular machine learning languages. Can your current platform embed a recent YouTube video on the subject, underneath which is an embedded Jupyter notebook for trying out the code in real time? This way of thinking about how to build courses with mixed modalities will usher in the next generation of workers’ skills.
Employees collaborate more across departmental lines.
Following up on the previous point about decentralization, another important trend within innovative workplaces is a more open, cross-functional hierarchy. This matrixed approach allows workers to collaborate on projects as they arise, and then disband as the project wraps up.
Some have called this kind of collaboration an “internal talent marketplace,” and others, like writers in the MIT Sloan Management Review, have called it “work without jobs.” Whatever you call it, it’s increasingly common: As the Harvard Business Review noted, “Collaborative work — time spent on email, IM, phone, and video calls — has risen 50% or more over the past decade to consume 85% or more of most people’s work weeks.”
The challenge is to optimize this collaborative atmosphere for a) more productive work while at the same time for b) team-based learning. The HBR article provides ideas for resolving the former, but the latter remains an obstacle for many learning leaders.
How can L&D help? Embrace learning built for teams.
The modern learning platform helps to foster community around its learning modules. Learning should be more like discussion than merely lectures. That’s why it’s more common to see social learning experiences like contextual conversations, private and public communities, and real-time chat further enhance the total learning experience.
Consider how to redesign the learning path to include more social learning to help discover new content as well as help to make the learning stick with peer discussions.