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Training Today’s Diverse Workforce

Written by  Richard D. Ollek, CBSE

Let me begin by sharing two recent surveys that reveal very interesting statistics about today’s labor force.

First, a survey released in 2011 by the Mercer Corporation indicated that over one third of the current workforce would like to change jobs. Within that group, more than 40 percent of those aged 25 and younger want to change jobs. Even in today’s sluggish economy, where we have unprecedented high unemployment, we have a work force that is unsatisfied with their current employment. Given this, it’s more than likely that when the economy does improve we’ll see a flood of people leaving us, unless we can determine why they want to leave and then do something about it.

The second survey was released in May of 2012 by Right Management, a subsidiary of ManpowerGroup, that states only 19 percent of today’s workforce is happy with their job. Think about that: only one in five of your employees are potentially satisfied working for you.

The survey then focuses on what employers should learn from this data. If we want an upbeat, engaged workforce, we need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by their work. The primary way to fix this, the survey notes, is through more employee training and education. Interesting, isn’t it? In an industry where we constantly talk about how we need to train our employees better, it’s suggested we need to offer more.

Adaptive Training

This brings me to the real issue in the training of today’s workforce. How are you training today’s workforce? Still delivering the message the same way you did back in 1975 or 1995? Still advertising in your proposals, “We have a trained workforce?” Are your employees really trained, or do they just go to class and listen to the same lecture or video from 1990 on how to clean a toilet?

Let me suggest to you that our training must adapt to the workforce we have today. Most companies I work with have a workforce that ranges from ages 18 to 75 or higher. Are you training them all the same way? Research indicates that different generations need to be addressed in different ways.

For years, we’ve been told there are at least four different generations in our workplace. I’ll list them here, but keep in mind these are the opinions of research analysts, psychologists, and other professionals and NOT necessarily my opinion. There, I have that off my chest. Here are the four groups.

• Traditionalists: Those born prior to 1946 often have characteristics of dedication, sacrifice, conformity, law and order, patience, respect for authority, duty before pleasure, adherence to rules, loyalty, and tenure. Sound like anyone on your staff? This group also tends to be reluctant to rock the boat, uncomfortable with conflict, and is usually rather unexpressive when they disagree with company policy.

• Baby Boomers: Those born between 1946 and 1964 usually have the following characteristics: optimism, health and wellness, personal growth, work involvement, feeling forever young, good with relationships, team players, and are service oriented. Any like that on your staff? Baby Boomers generally aren’t budget minded, prefer process ahead of results, are overly sensitive to feedback, can be self centered, and sometimes judgmental of those with different opinions.

• Generation X: Those born between 1965 and 1980 have thoughts of diversity, global thinking, life balance, technology, having fun, self-reliance, entrepreneurial in nature, informality. Some of the challenges this group can present are impatience, different manners, inexperience, skeptical, can be perceived as slacking off at times, and don’t mind criticizing.

• Generation Y (Why): Those born between 1981 and 2000. They carry thoughts of optimism, confidence, civic duty, street smarts, diversity, and automation in every aspect of their lives. This group will typically need more supervision and structure in the workforce, are known to old timers as “job hoppers,” and often believe that work isn’t everything and that technology will get them through what they need to do.

Let me mention again that these are not necessarily my thoughts, but then why did I mention all of this in an article on training? Do you see the difference between the thoughts, ideas, and challenges of managing and training employees who are 70 years old and those who are 20? Do you see why old training methods may not work on newer generations? What are you doing to make sure that all ages in your workforce are being addressed in your training programs?

Not to belabor the point, but in our workshops we take it to the next level by asking our participants to complete a fun exercise that tells us what type of personalities they have within the different generations. We find out if they are Commanders, Stars, Diplomats, or Scholars. This then enables employers to better understand the staff they have running the company’s dayto- day operations. It really helps to place people in the right slots within an organization, and it’s fun.

Training: Effective vs. Ineffective Methods

At this point, I think it’s important to look at some of the most ineffective training methods being used today.

First, we have the old standby: “We send our new employees out to work with an experienced old-time employee, so they can learn the ropes.” My response to this is that the rope may also hang you. Your old-time employee may be showing them how to do it WRONG. I am of the opinion that onthe- job training is a recipe for on-the-job failure, unless it is augmented with other forms of training.

Next up, is “We bring them into the ‘training’ room to hear us tell them how to do it.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with today’s younger generations; they want action.

Third, we have the lecture of “thou shalt and thou shalt not.” Giving only rules and regulations about cleaning and attendance only makes people not want to work for you. Check your employee handbook. Does it give paragraph after paragraph of things the employee shall not do and very little on rewards they can earn and promotions they can attain?

A final example of an ineffective training method is when we don’t use the various types of training communication tools available to us today. As with the methods were just mentioned, using only old methods will only lead to continued high turnover.

Now, let’s look at some effective ways of communicating our training to our valuable workforce.

• In-house videos: Why not take videos of your current staff performing work correctly and play it in the application room as prospective employees are completing their application? This makes them aware of the type of work they will be performing. Then, after they’re hired and in actual training, explain that these are real employees they might work with and that the new employee himself could also become such a “movie star.” This gets them talking and thinking that this might just be a fun place to work. I have personally witnessed the enthusiasm this can create, particularly in new recruits.

• YouTube: Take those same videos, along with others you create on specific subjects, and place them on YouTube. This is a great opportunity to create short three-minute training classes on restroom cleaning, vacuuming, dusting, trashing, etc. Put them up online, and ask employees to view them on their computer. Then, provide a quick quiz on your web site, and give them a small bonus for successfully completing the course. Post them once a week, once a month, or however often you have time. You can also require a six-month review with a quiz and bonus payment for high scores.

• Podcasts: Similar to YouTube, Podcasts can be solely audio recordings, which may be a little easier. Post a message om Monday or Friday for your employees to listen too. Somewhere in the message, provide an employee phone number for them to call that features a grocery gift certificate or other prize. Be sure you record the message in all of the languages germane to your company. And be sure to make it a meaningful training guide or meaningful message, such as “Be sure to clean the filters on your backpack vacuums regularly,” along with advice on the proper use of the vacuum. This can really be a fun way to communicate.

• MP3 players: Here again is an opportunity to provide short informative training sessions. MP3 players can now be purchased in bulk at very reasonable prices. In fact, I recently purchased a single unit on Ebay for just $5. There are no bells and whistles, but that’s not what you’re buying them for. This is just another way to communicate with the younger generations. Traditionalists such as myself may not find this method very exciting, but we’re simply exploring different ways to communicate with the different generations we employ.

• IPAD: This method affords a great opportunity as well. Supervisors can show specific e-mails and training pertaining to individual accounts and provide on-the-spot training and response to customer needs. In the old days, we would provide area managers with TVCR’s, but they weren’t as effective as I’d hoped because they were too bulky to carry around. The IPAD, however, solves this problem.

• Webinars: This is an excellent method for training. Many vendors are holding regularly scheduled sessions on various subjects, and you can coordinate with them what you’d like to hear and see, and then schedule you employees to tune in. Pay them to listen and watch, and then schedule your own website exam to see what they’ve learned.

• Timekeeping messages: Many companies are now using some sort of telephone timekeeping, and these systems often allow you to tape a message to employees that they have to listen to before they can clock in. What a great way to communicate something that needs to be done or a quick lesson on dusting, etc.

• Company blogs: This is a great way to produce a periodic publication for your employees on new products and procedures or upcoming company functions. You can link it right onto your website. Blogs can turn into a company newsletter, or they can supplement a company newsletter. I was a blog skeptic until 2011, but since then, I’ve seen the results that can come from an effective, regularly scheduled blog. A

Bright Future

These are just a few effective ways to train a diverse workforce. Other ways include texting, company websites, and cell-phone videos. Many of you are probably already using some—or maybe all of these methods—to train your employees. You might even be using some methods I haven’t included in this article, but the point is just about every company can find new ways to train and inform employees so that all of the different generations working on staff can easily relate. With today’s technology, you have many different tools at your disposal to provide creative training.

With the high cost of replacing employees, it’s incumbent upon us to develop training systems and processes to retain our most valuable asset—our employees. I’m confident those companies that take steps now to better train and educate their employees will be the ones that will retain their staff members when the economy starts its upswing. Happy training!

Richard (Dick) Ollek is the senior consulting partner for Consultants In Cleaning, LLC, where he provides consulting assistance to Building Service Contractors. Prior to forming Consultants In Cleaning in 2005, he owned and operated his own cleaning and facilityservices company for 34 years after managing another company for nine years. He has written three books for the industry on selling, human resources, operations, and the dos and don’ts of contract cleaning. He also writes a weekly blog that can be found on his website www.consultantsincleaning.com. Additionally, Ollek is a principle in Tripod Learning Associates, which produces a free Monday morning podcast every week at www.tripodcast.com. In addition, he produces CDs and DVDs for the industry on a variety of subjects that are also available on the Consultants in Cleaning web site. Ollek can be reached at 573-873-9500 or via email on his website.

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