“Classroom Training” the new breed of Generation Z’s (also known as iGen or Post-Millennials) is going to be a whole lot of fun… if you get it right.
Yes, just as everything seems to speed up as we get older so does the next generation of learners entering the world of work.
For some of us, we have only just managed to grasp the essentials of developing the generation of digital natives known as the Millennials only to find that just behind them we have a whole new generation of enthusiastic learners known as the Generation Z’s.
Born around the mid-nineties through to today, the earlier Gen Z’s are now finding themselves being put forward for some serious corporate development opportunities as they start to enter the Management and Leadership arena.
This highly connected generation will in most cases have to learn alongside the Millennials and Generation Y’s. Potentially, this is a huge clash of beliefs, values, personalities and learning styles expected to conform to the structured and aligned world of typical training delivery.
So how do we ensure that our Gen Z’s needs are met in a classroom?
Even just writing the term classroom makes me feel so old and out of touch! Maybe I should refer to it as a “Learning Zone” or “Enlightenment Space”.
Here are my tops tips for engaging with Gen Z’s during group training events whatever you call the venue.
Cabaret, Café, U-Shape or Boardroom Style?
How about none of the above?
Gen Z’s are more used to Lounge Learning. They are fans of informal environments more akin to a Lounge Area than a classroom. High tables and stools, sofas and low tables, cushions and bean bags are more in keeping with using technology as they learn. Contrary to tech savvy Millennials the Gen Z’s would prefer to communicate face to face in small groups rather than through an electronic device but the ambience has to be right and setting up a Learning Lounge rather than a typical classroom will help them to relax and keep their focus… which doesn’t last very long!
This generation are the first to have Zoom, Pinch and Swipe “genetically” built in. Born into technology these are the first true digital natives. They are very able to work across 5 screens simultaneously… TV, Tablet, Mobile, Laptop and Desktop.
But what about PowerPoint?
In fact, most people reading this will have (over the past few years) weaned themselves off the addictive tendency to over use PowerPoint as a communication method. Some will have found the E-Cig alternative to PowerPoint in the form of such delights as Prezi etc. There’s no problem with Gen Z’s getting something visually, but the concept of them all looking with their heads up in the same direction is a little bit strange. For Gen Z’s the best place for any visuals is in the palm of their hands whether that be a phone or Tablet etc. The expectation is that Trainers will facilitate the delivery of the message to them.
The room is alive with the sound of Taylor Swift
Music on courses serves many purposes and can certainly help with setting mood and creating the right atmosphere in the room. But Gen Z’s are used to accessing their own library of musical tastes rather than listening to the Trainers preference which never sits right with a whole group. Trainers must be prepared to hand over the Spotify or iTunes streaming services to the Gen Z’s and empower them to choose the tunes that mean something to them. This is a great way to get them involved throughout a session and can be great conversation starters if personal tracks are selected on the back of a themed request e.g. “Songs that always make you feel happy!”
Also, we have to be prepared to encourage (and accept) learning with their headphones in and on… expect elements of the learning day to be totally silent, apart from the tapping of keys and a faint rustling of various different music tracks seeping from their cans and flooding the room with a fake form of tinnitus.
Business, Smart Business, Casual or Smart Casual? The lines between these categories defined to provide a steer on what to and not to wear to a training event have become blurred over the years. If you have a bit of spare time just Google some of the examples of what each means and be sure to not have a mouth full of coffee as the images appear on your screen. To Gen Z’s, it is more important to feel comfortable than fit with traditional views on training event attire. So, be prepared to see a lot more skinny jeans a self-designed T’s on the courses of the future. In fact forget dress code altogether.
What did you say?
Gen Z’s have grown up in a time where rules and regulations are there to be challenged. They express thoughts and feelings with ease to celebrities and even world leaders… so are certainly not phased by approaching, asking questions and challenging others within the business.
Leaders can be approached and tackled directly without having to go through endless levels of hierarchy and more importantly they have the bravery and confidence to do it. They are constantly on the look-out for weaknesses in trust and credibility of all those in authority around them. This also goes for the people who have been entrusted with their development. Trainers, coaches and facilitators need to be on top form with integrity, honesty and feedback to keep them on-side.
Learning led from the back of the room
This is the generation where there is no need to ask or hide from the unknown. They know the answer is out there. All you have to do is find it… usually through the internet.
For most trainers this will sound like a dream come true. All you have to do is hand over the learning to the Gen Z’s and facilitate what they find out. I believe this to be one of the most transformational changes in how we develop people going forward. When I first started out in Learning and Development working for a very large company, the Training Team held the key to unlock people’s development across the whole organisation. It was in fact a number of keys that opened the training resource cupboards. Knowledge was power in those days and unless the Training Team unlocked those powerful doors, no learning was ever going to happen. Thankfully, technology has transformed how we learn and trainers need to embrace the fact that Gen Z’s are motivated by self-discovery rather than being taught something. The trainer’s role just needs to adapt to facilitate this change.
Leading the learning journey from the back will be a challenge for a lot of organisations… but challenged further by the Gen Z’s desire to have everything now. They are impatient. Not only that, they want to input, design and create the learning solution with you too! Partnerships between L&D professionals and the learners will be have to strong.
That question is on the verge of a Gen Z’s lips today. We all need to consider how we communicate pre, during and post the learning event. Pre-event Joining Instruction and pre-work for a Gen Z would be expected through a dedicated social media page backed up with key information on Twitter rather than through email. Used to its full advantage I have used messaging to keep in contact with people on an event. Whilst I observe other trainers frantically pacing around hotels and conference centres looking for lost break-out groups and casual time-keepers, I gather phone info at the start of a programme and set up a group text to inform of deadlines and the need to return on time etc. Gen Z’s appreciate this approach rather than being hounded down.
Consider the content
Some of us need to look seriously at our L&D Programmes, methods of delivery, resources and materials to meet the needs of Gen Z’s. This is something that I am very keen to develop within my own company. It’s a huge thing to consider and goes far beyond the time and space I have here to explain but I think this example will help to clarify what I mean.
Gen Z’s are very pragmatic people. They have a desire for quick solutions to everyday problems. If we are training some Gen Z’s on Personal effectiveness for example we may just dust off the old materials relating to Productivity Techniques and Time Management best practice. But, Gen Z’s don’t want a theoretical best practice approach. What they do want is the best technology app that helps them to be more productive in the workplace and how to get the best from it within the framework of their role. This means that we all have to be up to date with technology based solutions as well as great coaches in the discipline and consistency in the use of these innovations.
And what will the focus of the content be over the next few years. Well prepare to re-write those competencies when it comes to Gen Z Leadership. This is an area that I am exploring further but as a starting point. I believe Gen Z’s will be highly energised and thoughtful leaders more in tune with diversity, equality and collaboration in the workplace. One area in particular though that will need to be addressed is their ability to step back and see situations from afar. Their over-reliance on technology will potentially jeopardise their ability to (as we said in the old days), take a helicopter view. I call it Situational Awareness. We will have to help them to overcome the anxiousness of putting the technology down and using the gifts we were given through our senses.
Especially, seeing and hearing.
So there we are, some of my thoughts about how we engage and stimulate a learning culture with our Gen Z’s. However, the most important thing to remember is that our new generation of employees has the highest levels of individualism of any generation before it and as long as stay true and focused to this need in how we design and deliver learning interventions to this dynamic group of people we should achieve great things together.
Jason Stevens is the owner of Ican Development. A People Development company specialising in Leadership & Management, whatever the generation!
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