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The technology that helps us do our jobs is always evolving, and so are the demographics of our workplaces. With more Americans over the age of 55 continuing to work, one company could have as many as five generations working side-by-side, from the Silent Generation all the way to Gen Z. To keep up with increasingly high-tech jobs, all of these workers will need some form of new skilling

After all, the only way a company and its workforce can be truly agile is through continuous learning that builds high-demand skills tied to future business objectives. But there is a lot of conflicting information out there about the best ways to teach new skills to a multigenerational workforce, and some managers mistakenly conflate stereotypes with reality. 

Technology Preferences Might Vary by Generation (But Only a Little)

Assuming that older workers won’t be able to keep up with new technology may lead managers to miss their employees’ potential. Silent Generation and Baby Boomer workers might well be more tech-savvy than their employers believe. About 82 percent of Baby Boomers have at least one social media account, and, according to a survey by Dropbox, people over age 55 might actually find using new technology in the workplace less stressful than their younger colleagues do. 

Plus, the stereotype that older workers can’t learn to use technology may even be more detrimental to those workers learning new skills than the complexity of the technology itself. To be fair, some older employees might simply prefer in-person learning options at first, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn about new technology. That is because technology preferences are more related to familiarity than they are to aptitude. 

Millennial and Gen Z employees, often referred to as “digital natives,” have been using the internet and phone applications for most—if not all—of their lives. These workers might conduct much of their social lives digitally; in fact, 42 percent of Gen Z says they socialize more through their phones than they do face-to-face. 

But that plugged-in perspective isn’t all that’s needed for professional success. An overreliance on technology may come at the expense of soft skills, like teamwork and interpersonal communication. However, that doesn’t mean those individuals aren’t ready and willing to learn. Perhaps due to the large amount of time they spend online, as many as 83 percent of Gen Z employees prefer face-to-face communication at work, giving them plenty of opportunities to develop soft skills with the right training.

The Importance of Flexible Learning Programs

Every individual learns differently, making flexibility a fundamental trait of successful new skilling strategies. Offering workers more choice in their learning allows them to personalize their training according to their schedules, preferences, personal aptitudes and weaknesses. Two critical tools for lesson personalization are microlearning and learning in the flow of work.

Microlearning delivers information in engaging, bite-sized pieces, making new ideas much easier to retain. Think about it: Would you rather sit through an hour-long training video or Powerpoint lecture? Or watch a six-minute TED Talk tailored to your professional interests? Another valuable method is learning in the flow of work, which involves interspersing lessons throughout a person’s day when they’re most relevant to the task at hand. This allows them to immediately apply the knowledge they’ve learned to a real-life situation. For example, imagine a helpful script popping up on a junior salesperson’s screen to help them prepare for their first call.

Moving Toward Mentorships

Though digital learning is gaining prevalence and has become especially crucial since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, not all learning has to happen this way. Smart HR professionals can use the experiences of the different generations to their advantage by implementing partnerships between older and younger workers, resulting in mentoring and reverse mentoring. 

Older workers can provide personal job insights and help their younger counterparts develop soft skills that might not be as available via digital training modules. Younger workers could help their more experienced counterparts acclimate to new advances in technology—or vice-versa. Connecting workers so they can ask each other questions simulates digital micro lessons with an off-screen approach.

Regardless of the mentorship’s skill focus, the benefits of these partnerships are often long-lasting for everyone involved. Employees who participate in mentorship programs are more likely to stay with their employers. In a case study at Sun Microsystems, researchers found that retention rates increased to 72 percent for mentees and 69 percent for mentors, as opposed to 49 percent for their colleagues who did not participate in the program.

Age-Diverse Workplaces Are More Productive

Although there may be a small correlation between age and technology preferences, the major takeaway for HR professionals is that age-diverse workplaces are more productive. The wisdom of older workers and the fresh talents of younger generations are both assets that can’t be ignored. 

Flexible and customizable learning options, combined with programs for apprenticeship and mentoring, are keys to new skilling in any workplace. These tactics are especially vital when working with multiple generations because they tap into the strength of age diversity instead of treating it as a weakness.

Learn more about new skilling in the age of COVID here.