Reaching "Gen Y"

I have written a couple of articles over the past two years regarding training preferences of Generation Y workers (born between 1979 and 1994), and I continue to learn more about this group that is—or will be—so important to your maintenance crew.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with one of the leading recruiters and trainers of Generation Y workers. He confirmed some beliefs I had and some research I had read, while also dispelling some myths.

For example, it is a widely held belief that the next generation of workers—having grown up on a computer and in front of video games—do not like to gain knowledge through books. In fact, this is one of the best-read generations ever. The explosion of the Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings trilogy over the past eight to 10 years has seen to that. Even RPG-style video games require a tremendous amount of reading.

It is also widely believed that Generation Y trainees would prefer to learn in a computer-based environment than through print materials and classroom-based activities. Well, this is only true if the computer-based training is engaging. I have heard several stories from young technicians who are completely frustrated with low-level online training courses. "If you're going to have me clicking to a page and listening to a narrator read what's on the screen, just give me a book!" That was a frequent response in some recent post-pilot class interviews I conducted.

It is certainly a challenge to create an engaging Web-based course on a budget, but not impossible. One problem is that many course designers equate "interaction" in an online course with the number of mouse clicks required. But as an experienced instructional designer once told me, true interaction takes place in the mind. Keeping the content itself engaging, requiring the students to get involved, synthesize information and analyze problems—there is no "technology" substitute for that, regardless of the delivery medium.

One thing that seems to also work well with this generation is discovery-based learning. The next generation of workers is fine with just being pointed in the right direction and finding information on their own (they've done it for years on the internet), rather than waiting to be handed something.

Another myth about Generation Y is that its members are not very career-oriented. This couldn't be further from the truth, according to my recruiting contact.

This is a generation that is used to getting things quickly! They would prefer to take the fast track to a career, rather than working around for a while or going to college without a major to "see what I like."

The training needs for the next generation are varied, but there are some common themes.

Technical training will always be an issue, as new products and vehicle technologies continue to evolve. While many of today's students have access to a wider range of trade school and community college programs, that is balanced by the fact that so many high school programs have had funding cuts or been dropped entirely. Ensuring the necessary level of basic automotive knowledge and skills (base engine, driveline, electrical, etc.) is as much of a challenge now as it has ever been.

For those involved in the customer service side of your fleet, there does seem to be a gap in social interaction skills among Generation Y. Many recruiters and employers state that they often feel some sort of "charm school" is needed for their new crop of employees. The explosion of instant messaging and home schooling are just two of many contributors.

While reading and writing are usually not a problem, being able to speak and write professionally can be. There are numerous seminars on effective business communication available via internet search. These often cover anything from phone skills to proper usage and tone in emails to interpersonal communications.

As with any research findings, those referenced in this column are generalizations and do not apply to every individual. Careful assessment of the skill and knowledge gaps in your employees (as I have referenced in previous articles) should always be done before making training decisions.