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Why learning is so important to Gen Z

*First published at Cornerstone On Demand: https://smb.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/learning-gen-z

What do you do when you’re faced with the unknown? The unknown used to be combatted by asking the experts with years of experience, passing on stories, and, frankly, sheer faith. You learned to transform the unknown into the known by doing — and doing took time. In that time, nothing much changed about what you were learning. It certainly didn’t change to the extent that your knowledge would be irrelevant.

Sounds comfortable – and, unfortunately, a bit unrealistic today. If you’re like most people, today you Google it and make sure to get the latest answer. The goal for organizations is to do whatever it takes to reduce new hire ramp-up time, creating a preference for experienced talent. Furthermore, talent today grows up knowing that what they learned might be utterly useless by the time they graduate. The curriculum in the education system, from elementary to higher education, is caught in the same struggle. Knowing what to teach and how to teach it is a constant question.

At work, according to Deloitte research, Gen Z’s preferred career development is through diverse, entrepreneurial opportunities. By seeking variety, Gen Z hones their capacity for learning, rather than only focusing on knowledge in one particular area. Here are a few reasons why Gen Z prioritizes learning and development and what you can do about it.

Entry Level Is No Longer Entry Level – and Gen Z Knows It

With rising job automation, repetitive, manual jobs are disappearing, which used to be the majority of entry-level opportunities. Generations of employees learned fundamental skills, built relationships, and became a part of the culture through traditional entry-level roles such as paralegals, analysts, and technicians. However, as robots and increasingly sophisticated analytics take over, entry-level work for people has become more complex and we see it reflected in changing recruiting standards. According to Hanson and Gulish in their 2016 article, in the 1970s less than 30% of work (including at top corporations) required education beyond high school, whereas today 60% of jobs require a college education or beyond.

To quickly close the gap between their college education and today’s elevated job requirements, Gen Z asks and looks for learning opportunities. According to the latest study by Upwork, “Just one in 10 baby boomers feel they are personally responsible for reskilling as technology threatens the stability of many traditional careers. Conversely, three times as many millennials and Gen Z-ers believe the onus is on them, rather than their employer, to develop new skills.”

It’s no wonder Gen Z often prioritizes learning and growth over paychecks. They understand the importance of getting up to speed quickly and reskilling as necessary (hello, automation and disappearing jobs!).

Reinvest In the Path To Learning

Sadly, new hire training today is often just a single seminar or missing altogether – with the oft-heard, “We didn’t need that back in my day” and “they can learn on the job”. Rather than remap budgets and redesign programs, companies often look for the shortcut. Even though Boomers with core experience have retired and many new skills dominate the job market, organizations post jobs that ask for 5+ years of experience and hope to find someone who doesn’t require training. Rather than fight over limited talent, for organizations to succeed (to mutual benefit), it’s time to create a modernized learning program to help employees grow their capability.

In short, the days of setting up a once yearly seminar day is not going to cut the mustard anymore. Seminars were all we were able to do in the past, but the digital world has brought all new mediums for learning. Luckily, Gen Z is ready and adapt at learning in this new digital environment. This is the first fully digital generation and they expect development to be available on-demand, from multiple sources, and based on need of the moment. More than that, learning needs to close capability gaps beyond technical, repetitive skills. In a study of 4,000 Gen Z participants, 37 percent expressed concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills. All of this means we need new ways of training.

Unfortunately, everything about our training industry – from software that’s offered to the way our training professionals design – is based on the goal of creating a single deliverable (a class, course, video, etc). In a time where learning is so important to employees and the business, it’s time we upgrade how we empower growth. We need our L&D professionals to be skilled in designing a strategic set of learning assets or learning cluster to close performance gaps – both soft and hard skills, routine work and high-cognition tasks. Designing learning clusters is a process a colleague and I have developed and helped hundreds of L&D professionals learn.

The path to learning doesn’t occur at a single instant. It’s a journey. In order to strategically design that journey so we aren’t wasting investment on assets that won’t be used, we need a new way of thinking. The Learning Cluster Design model guides L&D professionals through selecting and designing learning assets based on who the learners are, when, where and how they will need to learn, and what the on-the-job change is that the business needs. You can see a graphic of the model below. 

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Whether you are in the training industry or not, we can all agree that continuous learning is the new normal – and that isn’t what we go to our L&D departments for. It’s time for a change so employees stop wasting time trying to find quality learning, but have what they need in the palm of their hand. After all, that’s what the digital age is known for!

Build Expertise

“It’s time for companies to step up to the modern learning demands of the incoming workforce. There’s no magic recruiting answer when the expertise you’re looking for can only be built. Taking the time now means engaged, capable talent tomorrow. For more resources check out Cornerstone DNA, training designed for Gen Z and look for our upcoming book (available May 2020) Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE And SAM.

*First published at Cornerstone On Demand: https://smb.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/learning-gen-z

I am a two-time TEDx speaker, author, and organizational development consultant. I focus on helping leaders question the assumptions of the Industrial age and re-imagine their workplace culture for today’s Digital age. Whether it’s a particular challenge in learning, inclusion, productivity, engagement, retention, or otherwise, I am leading dialogue that makes us think about what’s really going on here, what do we want to see, and how will we make that happen. — Crystal Kadakia