The Millennial Tsunami Is Coming. Is Your Organization Prepared?

Kristin Boe
Written by
Kristin Boe

Mentoring Is a Perfect Fit for Millennials

The Millennial generation, to which I belong, is 80 million strong, and it is estimated that we will make up 50-75% of the workforce by 2020.  Now, I don’t think that the Millennial generation will cause any Tsunami-like destruction (except maybe to outdated corporate practices and policies), but Millennials’ potential Tsunami-like disruption is what I think could be most powerful.

mtv-graphicMy generation learns and approaches development differently than previous generations.  While we may lack corporate experience now, it is essential that companies start thinking of new ways to help us become culturally embedded into the organization so that we can learn the skills and gain the experience we lack—which will lead to us remaining engaged and productive.  The business world must prepare for the changing demographic of the workforce now to ensure that expensive business disruptions (think knowledge and skill gaps, high turnover of top young talent, and so on) don’t have to be dealt with at a time when it becomes too late to make a difference and you’re trying desperately to just stay afloat.

How can you prepare for Millennial learning habits in your company? Consider these characteristics that Millennials possess.

Are self-directed

Finding a mentoring match through technologyOur knowledge or information-seeking behavior is influenced by our familiarity with and rampant usage of the Internet and sophisticated search engines.  For example, if I or other Millennials have questions at work, we often turn to the Internet or relevant technologies to source an answer or information to satisfy our learning needs. In this way, we differ from previous generations because we do not rely on our boss or a training professional for answers that these individuals may or may not have.  Instead, we innately turn to technology when it comes to solving work-related knowledge needs.

Will approach anyone

Unlike many other generations, Millennials’ view of the organizational landscape is flat.  Forget hierarchies; we believe that a person’s relative authority, especially in the context of learning, should be determined by one’s depth of knowledge and expertise rather than one’s title or tenure.  And we’re not afraid to approach the person we think is the best source of knowledge, even if they are many levels above us in a traditional hierarchy.

Are inclusive

Diversity and inclusionMy generation tends to be inclusive and egalitarian, and according to the Pew Research Center’s 2010 study, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, ” Millennials are often considered to be the generation most accepting of change and tolerant of diversity.  Our inclusive nature also impacts the way we expect development and learning activities to be offered.  We see opportunities for self-betterment, like mentoring and coaching, as an activity that is for the masses, and we will reject the idea that only small, pre-qualified or “special” people should be allowed to participate in these L&D opportunities.

Are collaborative and team-oriented

My generation grew up in a time where group projects reigned in formal educational techniques, and the group’s output was considered better and of more value than the lone individual’s. Our collaborative nature, coupled with our extensive use of social media technologies, makes us powerfully networked. We will rely on this networked, team-centric approach when solving both work-related development and learning needs. We might want courses and classes to help us learn “the basics” or about company policies and procedures, but we don’t want them for on-the-job performance support.  We want to engage with our co-workers for contextual conversations and quick-hitting answers to solve immediate learning needs.

Are perpetual learners

Setting goalsMy Millennial generation wants learning and development opportunities to be constant and ongoing, and we have a large demand for social learning activities such as coaching and mentoring.  In fact, according to a 2012 MTV study called “Consumer Insights: MTV’s No Collar Workers,” 8 out of 10 Millennials would like to be participating in mentoring relationships.  Additionally, this study states that when it comes to mentoring relationships, Millennials don’t just want to play the role of “mentee”; two thirds of us also would like to mentor older employees on their areas of Millennial strength, like technology.  Creating opportunities that enable ongoing learning at your organization, like mentoring, coaching and peer learning, will not only help align with Millennial learning habits, but also help you create a more intelligent and effective multigenerational workforce at the same time.

#GenY and #Millennials are buzzwords on social media sites and highly discussed in the learning and development/HR industry. I think all this conversation about Millennials is positive, because conversation is often the catalyst for action.  But while there’s lots of talk about how my generation is different from others, I don’t hear much about what companies are doing today to plan for and accommodate the near-future workforce.  What steps is your company presently taking to create systems, processes, technologies and the like that allow for perpetual, collaborative, inclusive, and self-directed learning and development?  Unfortunately, I don’t hear many answers to this question.  My “Millennial” call to action for business leaders is simple: Stop talking about my generation and start preparing for us.  We are coming to land like a Tsunami—you can’t stop our arrival, but you can be prepared for it.

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