Millennials and Gen Z Need Training in This One Skill Set
People can’t be understood through generational caricatures.
Posted Apr 03, 2019
Have you noticed that your employees, especially more recent graduates, are great at taking direction, but sometimes require too much direction?
Do they seem uncomfortable when tasks or outcomes are ambiguous, yet are expert at implementing what they are specifically asked to do?
It’s unfair to group individuals into categories based only on age and to assign titles like Millennials and Gen Z. People can’t be understood through generational caricatures. Yet, there is something that sets apart U.S.-raised members of Generations Y and Z that few have recognized as influential on their professional lives: federal education law. Those born in the mid-1990s and later were the first to complete all or most of their schooling in a teach-to-the-test environment. Consequently, the top skills they need to thrive at work—the dimensions of creative thinking—may be dormant and need to be trained back into action.
The Testing Treadmill
In the 1990s, there was a move toward developing national education standards and assessments to monitor them. The bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, began with good intentions—to ensure the American education system was competitive and to improve educational outcomes for at-risk groups of students, such as those with disabilities, English-language learners, and students in poverty. The Common Core Standards adopted by most states since 2010 went even further to mandate what subjects to teach, how they are taught, and how they are assessed.
Sidestepping the merits or deficiencies of the standards themselves, it is indisputable that the net result of both of these efforts was a narrowing of the curriculum nationwide. Subjects most heavily tested like math and certain aspects of language arts gained precedence. In many schools, history, the arts, and even science have been squeezed out.
LinkedIn named creativity as the top skill needed in business in 2018, and CEOs and hiring managers have been saying the same for at least a decade. Yet, the thinking skills exercised in passing standardized tests do not include the robust original problem solving that is creative thinking. Thus, the very nature of the current educational system has given many young workers a disadvantage once they graduate.
As the chart demonstrates, the skills needed to succeed in school and the skills needed to succeed at work seem almost diametrically opposed. At school, students are tasked with recalling one predetermined answer. There is usually one right answer and the facts are usually readily available.
But at work in this ever-changing economy, we need to quickly respond to constantly emerging problems. Often these are ambiguous, we have to spot them ourselves, and then figure out how to solve them. For people who are trained to excel in the school paradigm, this can be disconcerting, especially at first.
Our youngest workers do have what it takes—and more—to exercise their natural creative thinking on the job. Yet, recall that most have not been asked to do so for the better part of their schooling. They also highly value professional development, so give them what they want and need: creativity training. Train them to use their natural creative strengths and to use a creative process like creative problem solving or design thinking. Be sure to add to it a little patience as they shift into this new but natural mode of learning and working.
For more, see our free Strengths Spotter Workbook.