BoomersIn 2010, I co-authored the book, Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees. It’s about how 76 million Boomers will eventually leave the workplace and too often take with them years of valuable corporate knowledge. The book was written for the corporate audience: HR, workforce, and talent managers; line of business managers; and senior management.

 

We laid out a roadmap for how to assess whether an organization has vulnerability because of employee demographics, i.e., that an inordinate percentage of skilled, valuable people could walk out the door due to retirement or moving on to other jobs. In such a case, there are checklists, how-to suggestions, and methods for capturing knowledge so it can be transferred to those remaining for training purposes.

Part of this examination included providing an understanding about the three primary generations in the workplace—how they differ and how their learning preferences shape a knowledge transfer program.

In a series of three blogs on learning styles and distinctions among the generations, I’ll examine preferences for each of the three. In this blog, we’ll look at the Boomers. Subsequent blogs will cover Generation X and Gen Y (Millennials.)

A note of caution to begin: distinctions among the three generations are not always clear. It can be difficult to precisely determine where one generation begins and the other ends. It can also be challenging to categorically say how a group of people learn. Being individuals, no matter our age, we all have our own unique ways of absorbing and processing the information that becomes knowledge. With that in mind, let’s focus on the generation that was born between 1945 and 1964—the Baby Boomers, the group that came post-World War II, when America (and Europe as well) was returning a normal, peacetime family existence.

Perhaps because the Greatest Generation (or Matures), the parents of Boomers, were regarded as attentive in their 1950s-era parenting, Boomers are known for their self-assured, optimistic, get-ahead attitude. Whether questioning social or sexual mores of the times, resisting the Vietnam war or confronting what they saw as their parents’ stodgy lifestyles, Boomers came to be recognized as challengers of the status quo.

They have a strong work ethic, which may in part have been passed on by their parents, who came up during the depression. It is not uncommon to find Boomers working long hours, building a career or business, while it is more likely that younger people today are quite content to get their jobs done but then leave it to attend to their personal lives.

As a clue to how each generation learns best, in research for the book, we found experts who noted major differences in the way generations like to come together to make decisions. Boomers tend to like to work in teams, desirous of having a role, and finding that in team meetings, they often have higher status.

As one of our interviewees put it, “Boomers want to huddle up and talk.”

Gen X, on the other hand, “wants to get stuff done and go have a life.” Gen Y often sides more with Boomers in this respect, because they look for opportunities to contribute and participate during these early days of their careers.

As to how Boomers learn best, a look back at a typical school day growing up reveals how a structured environment where memorization was king was typical, where that routine and structure provided a real-world application of the three Rs (the basic skills-orientated education program within schools: reading, writing and arithmetic, which was common at the time.) This also gave context to in-class experiments and exercises, which were a popular method for imparting learning lessons.

Boomers tend to find that lectures can work well when introducing new topics and ideas; hands-on learning with expert feedback provides context and aids in developing specific skills. And demonstrations by experts give these learners the visual guidance they need before they try the task themselves.

At the same time, older learners do not expect to be continually entertained and engaged in the classroom. Because they didn’t grow up with technology, they tend to rely on sharing experiences rather than on CDs, multimedia, and video games.

So problem-solving exercises, discussions, case studies and simulations are effective in helping Boomers relate from their experiences, especially when done in small class settings, where they’re freer to share.

In developing training, especially if Boomers are involved, include plenty of time for interactivity and don’t be afraid to assign homework and reading. After all, that’s how they learned back in the day.

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