For Millennials and Gen Z, today’s professional development needs work

In the age of Zoom fatigue, why are professional development programs getting longer? To engage Millennials and Gen Z, we must level-up the learning offer.

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The generations we call Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) now make up most of the global workforce. But despite their numbers, today’s workplace may not meet their needs, because they’re quitting jobs and hopping between positions in growing numbers. Those businesses that examine how they’re retaining, developing and supporting these employees will have a chance to get ahead of their competition.

There are signs information overload and mental fatigue are making us all gravitate to short-form content, but Millennials and Gen Z express this preference more strongly – they seem to learn, think and communicate differently from their predecessors. If companies want to boost their performance, organizational resilience and enterprise capabilities, they should redesign their professional development programs to engage these audiences better.

Where professional learning is going wrong

As a futurist keynote speaker and workshop presenter, I train thousands of professionals on how to adapt to industry change and emerging technologies. I need to bring audiences up to speed and inspire enthusiasm within minutes. But I find IT learning and professional development methods are still tied up in rigorous training programs and demanding certifications that take weeks or months to unpack.

In the age of Zoom fatigue, things are going in the wrong direction. I’ve seen a steady increase in the average length of training I’m asked to give, from under an hour to 90−180 minutes.

There’s a growing disconnect between what audiences need – more approachable, on-demand, just-in-time education – and what learning and development programs provide.

“Today’s IT and security pros need to get up to speed on a rising array of breaking trends, technologies and topics in less time than ever,” David Thomas, executive director of online programming at University of Denver, told me. “At the same time, they’re pulled in more directions and their concentration is becoming more divided.”

Microlearning as an addition to traditional learning

Experts suggest offering a broader range of learning approaches and educational solutions can help fill the gaps around extensive teaching and training programs. Microlearning especially is gaining ground. This rapid-fire approach to learning means breaking content into shorter, more approachable chunks. It helps promote interest in new topics and gets learners up to speed faster.

In a 2018 paper, researchers Ján Skalka and Martin Drlík reported that microlearning, in tandem with more comprehensive training methods like coursework and certification programs, helps offset the impact of decreasing attention. It gives a speedy onramp for tech-related topics, reducing the learning curve, driving interest and boosting learning.

Tatyana Shumaylova, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kaspersky says get-to-the-point, bite-sized learning is central to their cyber education program Automated Security Awareness Platform (ASAP). “We understand that maximum engagement is key to learning, so we put that at the heart of our educational approach. For Millennials and Gen Z in particular, the ‘old ways’ are ineffective, so we trimmed the fat, banished waffle and keep our modules sharp, interactive and impactful.”

Greater loyalty to businesses that value learning

Researchers at Florida International University found leaders and employees admit there’s an issue with maintaining attention spans. They also found young audiences can maintain intense focus but are easily distracted.

The research found these younger professionals are “most engaged when working on projects that are rewarding and impactful” and when they’re doing “meaningful work and being challenged.” These generations also actively look for jobs with more development opportunities and are more loyal if they receive continuing education. Companies must adapt development and training programs to short attention spans to engage and retain them.

A Millennial herself, Taylor Tresatti, head of industry research for BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, told me she’d found learning and experiential opportunities promised but not delivered many times in her career. So she changed job roles and positions to get them: “As an employee, you have to gain working knowledge of new tools, technologies and trends quickly, without active training or certification from your employer. It would be super helpful to have access to faster and easier ways to master new skills.”

Investing in tech-rich learning experiences

In their 2020 paper Educational experiences with Generation Z, three researchers said younger generations motivate companies to “accelerate and improve the teaching and learning process.” This means investing in more technology-powered resources for new ways of teaching and learning, and finding more effective ways to capture and hold audiences’ attention.

Chris Zimmerman, senior analyst with trend forecasters FutureProof Strategies, told me, “There’s a time and place for traditional learning methods and deeper dives. But your first goal in an increasingly frenetic business world should be to pique audience interest. That means looking for ways to present learning material that breaks through daily clutter better. It also means finding better ways to package and present material that bestows working knowledge faster.”

How to make learning more engaging

I recently developed a new training method called POP FUTURE – you can download the instruction manual and guide for free. It’s a faster, friendlier way to present learning content, putting future trends, new technologies and emerging business topics in a more intuitive and welcoming context that audiences of more backgrounds and skill levels can understand.

My methods include reducing training manuals, workplace guides and reports to quick-hit videos, animated explainers or brief charts, illustrations and infographics.

You might also produce short film clips and documentaries to make topics more engaging and relatable to audiences’ day-to-day work reality, and put their impact and influence in more understandable terms.

Effective teaching can also include games, exercises and simulations based on real-world challenges, like role-playing strategies for addressing network hacks or data breaches. I also recommend using animated GIFs, eye-catching explainers and graphs, and other social media-friendly content to make simple, understandable visual representations of complex subjects.

Developing tomorrow’s leaders

Millennials and Gen Zers are quick learners, hungry for insight. In a world of shrinking employment tenures, they weigh learning and development opportunities highly when considering jobs.

When unforeseen challenges emerge, these audiences won’t have the time for traditional learning programs or in-depth curriculums. Supplementing your learning and development regimen with more short-form and microlearning-based content will give your workforce access to more approachable, on-demand learning and speak to more knowledge-hungry employees.

Kaspersky Security Awareness

From frontline staff to security pros, our engaging cyber education will bring them up to speed.

About authors

Business strategist and award-winning speaker Scott Steinberg is also trend expert, futurist and author of 20 books, including Make Change Work for You.