Can You Put Baby Boomers and Millennials in the Same Training Classroom?



Not long ago, a leading brand of cosmetics started hiring brand ambassadors. Those reps would travel to retail stores to see whether products were being correctly displayed on shelves, whether new displays were being used and, on occasion, to hand out samples and coupons.

The company assumed that mostly millennial-aged applicants (born between about 1982 and 1994) and some members of Generation Z (born after 1995) would respond to ads and come in for interviews. After all, those younger people would want flexibility and freedom. But to the company’s surprise, lots of baby boomers filed applications too. (In fact, about 30% of all applicants were boomers.) Those members of the boomer cohort (born between 1946 and 1964), it turned out, were also looking for flexibility. Some of them were mothers and fathers whose grown children were out of the house. Others were retired executives and managers who wanted to work interesting part-time jobs. As one applicant said, “Why would I want to be a greeter at a big discount store when being a brand ambassador is a lot more interesting.””

Welcome to a Mixed Classroom

Faced with the prospect of training two very different groups of employees, the company began to wonder. Would it be necessary to create two completely different training programs – one for each demographic? After all, the company had been told that millennials loved technology and would consume mobile-based training at breakneck speed. The company had also been told that baby boomer elders tended to feel uncomfortable if they were surrounded by troops of youngsters.

If you’re facing considerations like those, it is not necessary to create two parallel – and costly – training programs. Here are some options we can discuss with you . . .

  • A core curriculum of lessons can be customized using low-cost add-on features. You could, for example, create a course plan and deliver it in a format that will be comfortable to both groups. Example: You can allow trainees from both groups to take training on their laptops or tablets, or in your company’s computer learning center. You can then add on some trainer-led classroom experiences for your boomer learners, to personalize the learning experience in ways that many of them find comfortable. And if your budget permits, you can deliver training to your millennials on their smartphones.
  • Millennials and boomer “elders” can actually enjoy learning in side-by-side settings. They are not, after all, cats and dogs. If you use trainers who are sensitive to generational differences, a mixed training group can provide an enjoyable learning environment for everyone.
  • Try to keep your training free of references to current music, television shows, social media sites, and other “new stuff.” Just remember that the boomers in your classroom might have no idea what Snapchat is, who Katy Perry is, or how it is that millennials in the room met their boyfriends and girlfriends using something called Zoosk. But in many cases, you can create an inclusive training program simply omitting such references.
  • You can often save costs by pinpointing and analyzing what you need to teach. Are you, for example, only teaching a set of straightforward procedures and rules – like how to service the copiers you sell? If so, one basic curriculum could work for multiple demographic groups. Are you teaching more subtle skills too, such as interacting with distinct groups of customers, selling, upselling, or handling incoming orders on the phone? If so, your training might need to be differentiated to work well for your different groups of trainees.

Training Is a Science and an Art

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we have made that same observation before – that developing training is a mixture of science and art. That doesn’t mean, however, that reaching your training goals needs to be expensive or slow. We invite you to contact us to discuss your training goals and needs.