Millennials and Training in the Workplace

Let’s face it: the world is changing at a breakneck speed. The industrial hygiene industry is not exempt from this fact. Catering to more generations in the workforce than ever before, it can be challenging to find trainings and strategies that appeal to everyone.

Millennials are unique in their perceptions of safety. They’ve lived through turbulent times, from 9/11 to mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School: this has shaped their viewpoints and assigned more value to workplace safety than with previous generations. (APA Survey) Employers must be effective and diligent in conveying a consistent and heartfelt message that appeals to different ethnicities, age groups and learning styles. (Safety Matters Newsletter)

It can be a daunting task, but this article will focus on Millennials as the key to unlocking multiple new learning styles and training perspectives, as they have had to be the most flexible generation entering the today’s workforce. And, most importantly, “Millennials, with their growing numbers in the workforce, will soon take over leadership in OHS positions.” (EKU)

Generational Differences

Here is a quick way to compare the different generations in the workforce today:

Traditionalists: This is the smallest subset of the American workforce, and they were influenced by the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II. Also called the Greatest Generation, they were able to benefit from jobs with good benefits, vacation time and social security at its height. They value conventionalism and structure, believing that respect is earned.

Baby Boomers: The boomers were shaped by Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the rise and influence of television. They share the need for formality with Traditionalists, but also find motivation from the work they do rather than in praise or rewards. Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face trainings, where they can ask questions directly, like Traditionalists.

Generation X: The “Xers” grew up in a time when there were more dual-income families, single-parent households and children of divorce, so from a young age, they were used to spending part of the day without adult supervision. As a result, they tend to be very independent as adults; dislike micromanagement; and are interested in keeping a healthy work-life balance.

Gen Y (Millennials): This generation is plugged in and connected to social issues and the world around them more than any other generation. They’re compassionate and hardworking, but they are used to getting information quickly. Millennials believe that, ideally, employment should align with their personal values. They respond well to trainings that can be viewed at their own pace and access to information in apps and on smart devices.

Generation Z (Post Millennials): This group is known for being anxious, but hardworking employees. They share many traits with Gen Y, but they are entering the workforce even sooner than Millennials; sometimes, even without college credentials. They tend to prefer short, to-the-point, online training that utilizes animation and music.

According to the staff at ACGIH, “it will be difficult for a ‘one size fits all’ approach with these workers. Each generation will require risk communication that resonates with their own experience and the preferred method of communication.” (IHW)

Training Trends Appealing to Millennials

There are a few terms/techniques within the industry that appeal to Millennials’ learning style. These are the top three being used in the industry today:


Microlearning provides information in chunks, or “nuggets,” with specific objectives. (EKU) The technique can be offered in any format, but it works best when accessible via smartphone, desktop computer or tablet. The sessions should not run longer than five minutes, as this would defeat the concept of the training.

Part of microlearning’s appeal is that it can be used to meet more precise needs. For example, if part of the daily activities for a team of workers was how to properly wear PPE in certain work areas, a manager could set up a microlearning session about that PPE safety. The session would be short and concise, causing minimal interruption in the daily workflow.

Companies like Walmart saw the number of injuries deemed reportable to the U.S. OSHA fell by about half in six months. (EKU) Free course curriculum is being created by companies like EDapp, to fill the need for learning solutions on construction sites. Microlearning is a quick way to train workers and focus on problem areas, seeing results quickly and efficiently.


Gamification, or the integration of game mechanics and elements into non-game contexts, has been found to engage employees and make safety training fun and memorable. “In gamification, game mechanics are employed outside game contexts in order to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty by leveraging people’s natural desires for autonomy, competence and relatedness. This unique potential to foster (intrinsic) motivation makes gamification techniques promising for increasing engagement with corporate health programs.” (NIH)

To meet OSHA compliance regulations that mandate in-person safety and compliance training, many companies have turned to gamification because:

  1. It creates higher levels of engagement. Who doesn’t want to play a game as opposed to sitting through another lecture or seminar?
  2. Improved retention. Gameplay has been known to help individuals retain information quicker and longer.
  3. Connects learning to the real world. Employees will likely want to remember and practice the things they learned, if the process of learning the information was fun.
  4. Provides instant feedback and reinforcement. Employees get instant gratification from negative and positive reinforcement in gaming scenarios.
  5. Gets employees hooked on learning. A new challenge, leveling up and earning points is always a great way to keep people motivated and focused on safety.

Virtual Reality:

Lasty, there is the VR-based learning approach that appeals to Millennials. VR-based learning realistically simulates workplace scenarios, allowing employees to engage with training beyond traditional teaching methods. It empowers employees and delivers training that is more available and scalable, providing multiple learning opportunities rather than a periodic refresher of the same material.

Most importantly, VR-based learning can help the trainee translate what they’ve earned into real-life job performance. It also addresses different learning styles, i.e., visual learners, physical (kinetic) learners and verbal learners. This helps to attract and keep a wider range of employees. IHW

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