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Developing Users Across all Generations and Backgrounds

June 8, 2011

This past week I was able to enjoy a visit with my grandson, age 10 months. While still feeling too young to be a grandma and preferring to think of myself as a “glam-ma,” I have come to grips with the fact that I’m sneaking up on being “older” [snort] despite feeling like I’m still 29 and acting like I’m 18. On the cusp between a Boomer and Gen-Xer, I’m a sort of adult “tween” I suppose, wedged somewhere in the middle.

There’s a lot of speculation and research surrounding the retirement of Boomers, our aging task force and the up and coming Millennials and their impact on learning. I once read that Picasso, in his golden years, was not allowed to roam art galleries freely as they caught him trying to improve one of his paintings. It made me think about what I will be like when I get older. Will I want to continue to improve upon my skills? Will I develop a fear of change? Or worse, will I develop an attitude of apathy? Because I know my top strengths are Learning, Ideology and Strategy—Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham—I really have no doubt I will follow in the footsteps of Picasso, but what about my learners?

The Great Recession changed a lot of things. One change in particular…was the face of retirement. Boomers once planning on retiring around 62-64 are now opting to work to 67 or older. With longer life expectancies and the economic uncertainty of the times, this is not a shocking development, but it does add a layer of complexity to the workforce. Factor in the feelings surrounding a significant change in life plans. If you were looking forward to taking a vacation next week and had to postpone it for six months, what would your attitude be? So what attitude will Boomers bring with them when it comes to learning? What will the attitude be of the people waiting to take their place? A discussion on talent strategies and succession planning is certainly needed, but also a discussion on cultivating the motivation and desire to learn across all generations of workers.

What does an experienced workforce have to offer? Knowledge—the kind only gained through years of hard work. Finding ways to harvest that knowledge does two things: it builds up your inexperienced Millennials while showing that the firm recognizes and values the knowledge and experience of the Boomer.

What does a young workforce have to offer? They offer fresh ideas and perspective, a new learning style and an innate level of technical know-how never seen in a workforce before. Tapping into this energy brings about faster user-adoption of new technologies and processes.

Activities to consider:

  • Mentoring programs where experienced workers can share and transfer their vast knowledge to newer workers.
  • Focus groups where multi-generational workers can share ideas and gain a deeper understanding of their co-workers.
  • Flexible recognition and incentive programs that appeal to a multi-generational workforce.
  • Variety of learning opportunities for users that prefer hands-on, eLearning, mLearning or self-study.

Picasso said, “We don’t grow older; we grow riper.” It’s up to learning development to find ways to cultivate our users across all generations and backgrounds and develop richer learning experiences.

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