Want your millennials to learn?

Don’t leave them to their own devices

This summer I was delivering an employability workshop to students at London South Bank University when I asked them: “What is the first thing an employer looks for on your CV?” The unanimous response was “The education section – my degree”.

Wrong. It was a shock to them that in fact, the most important aspect for most hiring managers is meaningful experience. If millennials (like me) can show evidence of the right skills development through experiential learning – via projects, volunteering or work – they will be more attractive candidates than those who simply have the ‘right’ degrees.

Young people are not developing the business critical skills that companies need by the time they enter the workplace. Many UK businesses have to address shortfalls in functional skills among young recruits, with 41% reporting they have organised remedial training for at least some school or college leavers and 25% reporting the same for at least some graduates in the 2016/17 period. This is a positive response to the skills gap, but the way these skills are now learnt is the key.

The heart of the matter

What makes a really powerful learning experience for us millennials? It’s when that experience makes a tangible difference and we have an emotional investment in it.

To truly engage millennials in their own learning and to capture their attention, we need to take them away from digital and out of the classroom, into real world settings where experiences touch the heart as well as the mind. In the face of an increasingly digital world, real world experience is more important than ever. Of course, everyone has a different learning style and there is a place for digital in the learning journey, but slide shows, business simulations and online videos will only get you so far.

By connecting millennials’ skills development to emotional experiences with a social purpose, learning is embedded in a powerful way.

As an example, this summer at Three Hands we ran a 14 week skills development course as part of the graduate programme at Nationwide. Teams of 4 or 5 were partnered with local, purpose-led community charities and given briefs on real, strategic challenges that the charities were facing, where the grads could bring their commercial skills and apply them to issues around income generation. At the end of 14 weeks, all the grads had developed and embedded skills like teamwork, stakeholder management and relationship building in new ways that had meaning beyond the workplace. By being taken outside of their comfort zones and giving them ownership of their projects and their learning, they showed a clear increase in the development of business critical skills and felt more confident in their ability to perform their roles back at the office.

So, as a millennial, how would I suggest this is done well?

  • Give us experiential learning that goes way beyond business simulations and does something in the real world. This will appeal to our desire for meaning and purpose in our work.
  • Don’t forget the importance of reviewing and reflecting as part of the experiential learning process, a cornerstone of Kolb’s learning cycle.
  • Give the ownership of learning to the learners. A certain amount of autonomy and responsibility, coupled with challenges that make a difference, makes for a powerful learning combination.
  • Digital learning still has its place! Online and mobile methods can complement other learning activities and is a good source for “How-To” guides.

Those undergrads I was working with at London South Bank University in the summer went on to gain some great experiences through their faculties, working outside in the ‘real’ world to embed the skills and knowledge they were gaining in the classroom. It is this kind of experiential approach that turns good learning into great learning.

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