Preparing for the Next Workforce - 
Will it Surprise You that 
Gen Xers Want to be Trained?
By Kathy Kennedy / April 1999

Perhaps you have one in your familyóeven your home. A twenty-something person who is taking a bum rap as a Gen Xer.

Because Gen Xers have rejected linear thinking as the only way to approach a task, they are commonly viewed as disconnected malcontents. Their middle-aged supervisors may take issue with tackling a project in the middle instead of viewing the goal and then starting at the beginning. These young adults are comfortable with the modular approach of the web and CD-ROM, possibly because they can chart their own course, explore the relevant, and disregard everything else. 

Most important, they want to be trained. In September 1998, two studies surfaced that provide valuable information about this segment of the workforce. One was conducted by The Gallup Organization and another by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Motel Association. The Gallup survey, reported by Associated Press, confirmed what many of us have known all along. An employer offering company-sponsored training and education has an edge over those who do not when it comes to recruiting members of Generation X. What may surprise you is the fact that these young adults gave on-the-job training and education higher marks than did any other age group. According to the survey, they want more training than they are getting now and they see it as a means of being promoted. Smart kids!

When it comes to keeping a Gen Xer happily employed, brace yourself! Training can really impact turnover. A full 80 percent said training was a factor in deciding whether or not to keep their current job or accept a new one. Those who had received at least six days of training during the previous year had a 14 percent higher job satisfaction rate than those who did not. Demanding? Yes. Malcontent? Not if they are being properly prepared to meet our expectations. 

So itís confirmed. Training is a must. But how do you train a Gen Xer? Is a traditional classroom approach ineffective? What about videos? Too passive? The Educational Institute set out to answer these and many other questions. The report, Training and Learning Issues for the Hospitality Workforce 2000, has shed some light. The study reports on the results of the 1997 Hospitality Student Opinion Survey, which looked at students in various age groups from 17 to over 30, with 53% spanning the Gen X segment. Most of those participating in this study reported varying degrees of accessibility to computer-related equipment. Experience with live distance learning and interactive software, such as CD-ROM, was limited but rated as very helpful in cases where students were exposed to it. Those with fewer opportunities to use a computer rated videotapes, instructor demonstrations and hands-on labs as the most helpful means of learning.

While the study showed no significant differences in learning preferences because of age, it did find one age distinction. Gen Xers prefer the Internet and team projects to textbooks and instructor-led lectures.

It may be surprising to some that gender has an impact on learning preferences. Women liked textbooks more than men, whereas men preferred CD-ROM, videotapes and hands-on labs. This may indicate that print support for the videos, computer-based training, and hands-on experiences could enhance the training for everyone in your organization. 

The survey identified four learning styles common to all agesómastery, structure, collaborative, and non-school. Different learning preferences are associated with each style. 
As you would expect, students with a mastery focus take responsibility for their own learning activities. They prefer textbooks, instructor-led lectures, and case studies as a means of learning. 

Some are more inclined toward a structured focus. Even among Gen Xers structure was the second most dominant learning style. These students prefer a learning environment with clear information from an instructor about class assignments. Their preferences closely mirror those with a mastery learning style, but with one noticeable difference. They prefer instructor demonstrations to case studies. 

On the other hand, those with a collaborative focus learn best through group activities and prefer team projects, instructor demonstrations, interactive software, and videotapes. These are trainees who also like a discussion format with input from their co-workers, as well. 
The non-school learners could be called non-traditional. They are characterized, not by what they prefer, but what they do not want. Although there is no clear indication of the most effective tools for training this group, donít try to train them with textbooks, instructor-led lectures, or case studies. They clearly reject those.

There are some conclusions we can draw from these two studies by Gallup and EI. While a great deal has been written about the characteristics of Generation X and their attitudes toward the workplace, they are definitely ripe for training. And while you may be careful to give thought to the fact that people, regardless of age, have different learning styles, you donít have to feel unprepared to train the Gen X population. What works for your Gen Xers will work for everyone, and according to the EI study, the preferred instructional delivery methods are hands-on labs, team projects, instructor-led lectures, and videotapes. 

The EI study also revealed considerable interest in newer learning delivery systems such as live, interactive, distance learning and interactive software, or CD-ROM. The most successful trainers will probably combine the new delivery systems with the preferred as often as possible to appeal to all trainees. 

If you are training at the property level, here are some recommendations gleaned from the study that can increase training value. Make your training inviting and interesting enough to stimulate the desire to learn what is being presented. Consider a good mix of training methods as you design your programs in order to respond to the various learning preferences youíll encounter. Be as flexible as possible in allowing trainees to choose their learning methods. And finally, provide a supportive environment for employees to put what they have learned into practice. This done, youíre well on your way to increasing job satisfaction among your Gen X population who value employee training and watching them use it to move ahead in their careers.

This article originally appeared in Lodging magazine.  For more information on training resources for Generation X and all employees, visit EIís web site at

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Also See:
Who Are You Hiring? Pre-Employment Screenings Help You Find Out / Elizabeth Johnson / EI
The Labor Squeeze: Finding Good Employees / Elizabeth Johnson / EI

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