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ATD Blog

4 Things Millennials Need From Your Learning Program

Monday, May 20, 2019

Not another article about Millennials!

Millennials have been the topic du jour for years, with cover articles appearing in publications like Time magazine as far back as 2011. HR professionals have almost certainly attended a conference session centered around this generation and how to respond to their requirements in the workplace. Millennials want feedback and praise and the ability to work remotely—we’ve heard it time and again. But does that mean the topic is done?

Not yet, and here’s one of the reasons why: According to Harvard Business Review, 51 percent of leaders age 36 and younger described their company’s learning and development programs as “inconsistent or underperforming.” With 71 percent of Millennials likely leave their current employer in the next two years if their leadership skills aren’t developed, it seems the discussion on Millennials still needs to turn into action.

Millennials want to learn, develop, and grow in their careers. To hold on to your young leaders, it is essential to offer a strategic learning program.

There are four things a learning program needs to be successful.

Millennials Want Leadership Training

We mentioned the high demand among Millennials for leadership training, but there’s more to the story. The average age of a manager is 30 but most typically get their first manager training at 42. Companies looking to train successful leaders need to do so much earlier.

Step one is to start training earlier and step two is to ensure training is valuable. Status quo for leadership training and development isn’t cutting it anymore. This generation is highly critical of leadership training, with only 40 percent finding programs currently in place to be excellent; 80 percent say on-the-job training from their employer will be crucial to help them perform at their best.

Bottom line: Millennials want to start leadership development early, and your program needs to meet high standards.


Shift From Top-Down to Self-Directed Learning

How did learning happen when you were in school? The teacher would plan a curriculum and hand out content and assignments. The method is one-directional from the top down—get an assignment and complete it. Simple.

This top-down method of training in the workplace with a traditional learning management system (LMS) dictates how employees learn. While it may seem clean and simple, it lacks something important: Empowerment.

Modern LMSs and learning strategies facilitate how people learn in real life and focus on empowerment. It’s a push and pull between formal and informal training.


Always-On Learning

Studies show that the average person checks their smartphone an average of 80 times per day. Millennials are well accustomed to technology and more attached to it in their daily life. It probably won’t come as a shock that the number of times Millennials check their device is quite a bit higher—up to 150 times a day.

Millennials want to have answers the moment a challenge arises. In fact, training accessible in the moment of need leads to improved productivity and efficiency. With a modern LMS, learning can happen wherever and whenever it is needed.


With a modern system, learning happens:

  • during business travel (32%)
  • at home (26%)
  • while commuting (24%)
  • at the office (18%).

Learning Drives Career Mobility

What is this learning and development driving toward? For Millennials, the goal is career mobility. What’s more, Millennials expect modern learning to empower them to move their career in a lattice framework rather than the traditional career ladder. As an HR professional, you need to think of how learning can help an employee make a lateral move, change direction, or advance on their current track.

When learning is tied to mobility, companies experience 16 percent decrease in turnover and 40 percent increase in revenue.

The conversation about Millennials and the generations following them will continue to carry weight until we successfully change our approach to learning and development. A nimble LMS that empowers self-directed learning has become table stakes for every company.

For a deeper dive, join Jeff Miller at the ATD 2019 International Conference and Exposition for the session, Grooming the Surge of Millennials Leadership With On-the-Job Learning.

About the Author

Susan Jeffery is a content marketing strategist for Cornerstone OnDemand.

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