• Learning

Developing Gen Y Talent

How to create learning experiences to meet the aspirations of Millennials

Saturday 10 September 2016


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Congratulations! You have attracted and recruited and onboarded with flying colours your new team of Generation Y talent! So it’s time to lean back and let them perform, right?

You wish! Depending which study is cited, as much as 89% of Millennials say “it’s important to be constantly learning at my job” 1. The fact that personal and professional development are amongst the top retention drivers, is undisputed. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Study 2016, 44% of respondents expect to quit their current employer in the next two years and 71% of those, are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. In other words, to keep the talent you just invested so much time, funds and effort in hiring, you need to have a plan to develop them too if you want them to stay. As with any group of individuals, we know that not all members of one generation are the same. However, there are a several key attributes and commonalities we know about Gen Y that can help create an impactful development experience. 


Make Learning Digestible

Generation Y has a short attention span. Those of us working with them on a daily basis tend to witness this regularly. Therefore, incorporating frequent milestones for achievement throughout the development journey helps to satisfy the instant gratification that Gen Ys so deeply appreciate. Learning at your organization should be blended, interactive, mobile and social (ideally a mix of that) but above all, ensure that it is digestible. Modules must offer bite-sized chunks of input and the smaller you can break down tasks and assignments, the likelier it is to capture Millennials’ attention. Incorporating technology, such as short video clips and podcasts, further supports the development of Gen Y. Whether learners practice how to draw a straight eyelid line thanks to YouTube or whether they study nuclear physics thanks to a MOOC – Gen Y embraces digestible learning.  


Gamify Gen Y Development

Millennials are gamers. 65% of them are either avid or regular players of computer games2. Generation Y, are the original ‘Digital Natives’, having grown up in an era when technology influenced almost every aspect of their lives, so they will look for the same in training. Note, however, that a virtual learning environment alone, i.e. classic e-learning modules, is not sufficient. Millennials expect platforms to be modern, personalized and engaging. Having grown up on a constant dopamine high from gaming, they get bored quickly, so variety and fun are important aspects to engineer into any ‘edutainment’ learning experience. In addition, game oriented development should include elements of collaboration and social interaction, also in virtual settings. Not only do Gen Ys enjoy the opportunity to work in teams, positive personal relationships are a key factor in retaining this precious talent pool. Making learning fun should not be an oxymoron.


Adopt a Coaching Culture

Whereas older generations expect trainers or tutors to be subject matter experts and authority figures, who present professionally and focus on the topic, Gen Ys appreciate personal and informal relationships with facilitators and coaches, who cheer them on when they need encouragement and who have their back when they need help. Of course, this also applies to their direct manager - a supportive attitude trumps hierarchy and is a manager’s best bet to obtain loyalty! Organizational leaders are expected to be inclusive, invite participation, and allow failure. Mistakes will happen naturally, so why not let Gen Ys know that along with mistakes come learnings. Adopting a coaching culture means asking instead of telling, thus helping Millennials to come up with their own solutions and insights. This equally includes remote coaching relationships because Gen Ys “value ‘elationships’ as much as in-person relationships”3. Definitely something other generations can learn from them.


Implement 360° Feedback

The fact that Millennials are feedback junkies is well reported. According to the PwC Millennials at Work survey, 51% of those questioned said “feedback should be given very frequently or continually on the job”. It is important to realize, though, when Gen Ys asked for “feedback” what they really mean is positive reinforcement. Receiving candid performance feedback is not exactly their strength and might require some coaching first. However, knowing the value of feedback for Generation Y as well as their desire to be involved, take it one step further and ask that giving and receiving feedback goes both ways. In other words, implement regular 360° feedback habits (not processes!) at all levels. Millennials do not segregate into silos, and their natural tendency to engage across different departments, geographical locations and cultures is a great asset for organizations that aim to become more inclusive. As a bonus, you basically develop talent at all levels – KPI checked!

Gen Ys are expecting opportunities for growth and career advancement. If they don’t find their aspirations met, they’re gone faster than you can spell development plan. Make sure you are widely promoting and showcasing all the learning options available at your organization and adapt your offerings to the next generation of talent.



GAIA Insights pioneers new ways of leadership development and is a niche provider for customized premium solutions. By partnering to truly understand clients’ needs, GAIA Insights designs and deploys highly engaging learning experiences that caters to the aspirations and expectations of the next generation of leaders.

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