Targeting Employees Under 30

Effective safety training methods for a new generation of worker.

Looking down at your latest statistics or the "percent completed" chart that was just updated on your computer, you scramble to make sure that all of the required safety training is getting done before the end of the year. Eight people missed September's Fall Protection training ... you've got 12 new hires starting next week ... November's Bloodborne Pathogens instructor just canceled on you.

It's going to be hectic down the stretch, but it will be over soon. And then, you can take a deep breath and relax for a bit. But then you remember, you can't relax. The whole vicious cycle starts over again. What are you doing to avoid the pitfalls of previous years? How are you going to improve the effectiveness of your training? These are all questions to ask yourself as you attempt to improve your safety training programs.

Training for a New Generation of Worker

With the workplace demands of high-job turnover, expanding regulatory compliance requirements and a constant push to be more efficient in all aspects of your business, it only makes sense to use every advantage you can. As many of the traditionalists and baby-boomers are stepping out of the work force, the new recruits are moving in. If you're shaking your head at the thought of all of these "undisciplined, know-it-all kids" flooding the work force, you instead should be nodding your head at the creative possibilities you now have in the realm of safety training.

Let's set a few things straight: Every generation looks at the proceeding ones with a little skepticism. Traditionalists think Boomers should "do as they're told." Boomers think Xers should put in longer hours and gradually work their way up the ladder. Now along comes Generation Y and guess what? They have a whole new way of thinking.

One might characterize the new generation of employees under the age of 30 "Gen Y" as talented nomads. They are inclined to move through three, four or maybe even five jobs in their first 10 years, performing well but never hesitating to consider other possibilities. Traditional employer enticements such as a pension or retirement plan mean very little to those who are comfortable setting up their own investment accounts. As a safety professional, you are challenged with providing all the safety training they need in a timely manner. Since computers and Internet connections have become a staple in even the smallest of businesses, leveraging this technology for training Gen Y remains one of the best options available.

Second Nature

You could say with some justification that Gen Yers view computers and the Internet as extensions of their own bodies. The under-30 crowd uses them to balance their checkbooks, buy their favorite books or CDs and even play games with people from all around the world. In fact, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project, May-June 2004, 78 percent of people ages 18-29 use the Internet. Use this to your advantage.

Who better to help organize and implement an online training program than the individuals who have been exposed to technology throughout their personal and professional lives? Not only are they apt to embrace a technology-based training program, they also are inclined to keep pushing that training program toward continual improvement.

Training Challenges Haven't Changed

Today's workplaces are practically as diverse as snowflakes. However, from auto manufacturers to poultry processors, each has a basic obligation to provide core safety and health training to their employees. Some of the typical hurdles include:

  • Ensuring that each employee stays current with the training plan. Never mind the vacations, sick days and the occasional "Oh, I forgot we were having that meeting" excuses. It is challenging to "reach back" and account for all of those who missed the training sessions that were held. New employees and department transfers seem to come out of nowhere and they need training ASAP.
  • Providing a consistent message throughout. Let's be honest, all trainers are not created equal. If you have 10 supervisors who conduct monthly safety meetings within their respective departments, do you really think that your work force is getting a consistent level of training? Training is simply not everyone's strong suit. Even good trainers have a difficult time delivering the same message twice!
  • Getting each employee engaged in the process. Videotapes and DVDs can be good, but they don't require active participation. Trainers who read directly from a prepared information sheet risk being ignored or "tuned out" by the learner. A good online training program will provide interaction, engaging information for the student, and appeal to multiple adult learning styles.
  • Administering documented quizzes or tests to help ensure that the information is retained. It's quite a paperwork nightmare to give tests to each employee on even a semi-regular basis. But it sure is nice to know you had documentation of that nature when you are audited or possibly even challenged on a legal matter.

Making the Leap to e-Learning

Internet-based or online EHS training is not exactly a new blip on the radar screen. Many companies have used it successfully for years. Those that haven't made the jump are understandably hesitant about making the transition to something new. It is by no means the answer to all of your training needs; for some objectives, you'll likely require a blended learning approach. You can, however, implement a quality e-Learning program to instill your organization's core knowledge-based safety information and best practices.

Here is what you need to consider when taking that step:

  • Assess your organization's readiness. This can be a major change initiative; make sure you are prepared. Do your employees have access to Internet-connected computers at work or at home?
  • Choose the right partner or vendor. Select one that not only produces quality content, but also supports your pre- and post-implementation efforts. Choose an e-Learning vendor that has: experience; customers who will provide references; consistently top-notch content; the ability and willingness to customize off-the-shelf content; and a results-oriented approach to training.
  • Be strategic when attaining buy-in within your e-Learning program. Follow the path of least resistance by initiating a program that has a high chance of success. Then turn your attention to other business areas that present additional hurdles and obstacles.
  • Embrace change.
  • Identify a champion, or cheerleader, who will motivate others to value and defend your e-Learning initiatives.
  • Engage a cross-section of management to ensure corporate buy-in.
  • Create a pilot program to demonstrate value to the entire organization.
  • Pilot the program in an area of the organization you believe has the greatest chance for success. Then build upon that success.

Why Generation Y?

Bruce Tulgan of RainmakerThinking Inc. has conducted numerous studies regarding the various generational divides in the workplace. He based his "seven most important things to know about Generation Y employees" on those studies. Take a look at five of those perceptions and how they might translate to online training opportunities:

Gen Y employees have high expectations, first and foremost, for themselves. They expect to identify problems nobody else has identified, solve problems nobody else has solved and do things smarter. They expect to prove themselves both to themselves and to you. They expect to do more work and do it better and faster than the next guy. They want to "wow" people with the options that technology provides.

Gen Y employees have high expectations for their employers and managers. They expect you to keep track of who they are and what they are doing and to help them succeed. They expect you to take note of their successes and reward them accordingly. They expect you to be honest, direct, fair and highly engaged every step of the way. They wouldn't have come to work for you if they didn't expect these things. By involving them in a pilot, they understand that employee safety is important to your company and that you value their input.

They look at every employer as a hub of resources. These include learning opportunities, relationship opportunities, opportunities to tackle creative challenges and collect proof of their ability to add value, flexible work conditions, financial and non-financial rewards. Use that open-minded mentality and get an early buy-in on their part on the importance of safety.

Members of the Gen Y generation ask themselves this question every day at work: "What's the deal around here?" If you do not answer that question explicitly on a regular basis, you will lose their enthusiasm, followed by losing their commitment. They want to know exactly what you want from them and what you have to offer them today, tomorrow and next week. Allow them to help mold your training program as it grows. Use their energy to keep training fresh.

Gen Y employees want to get on board and up to speed very fast. The worst thing you can do with Gen Y hires is to leave them sitting around, waiting. Be ready for them when they arrive. Online EHS training programs should be available 24/7 so employees can get started on day one.

Your Turn

Unless you are content with facing the same dilemma this time next year, you should consider taking the next step. You've got the means, motive and opportunity.

  • Means Run the numbers and you'll find a huge return on investment.
  • Motive To regain control of your training program. Stop chasing and start driving.
  • Opportunity The new generation wants to be a part of the solution. The work force as a whole has become incredibly computer-savvy and it is more than up to the task.

Use the push of Generation Y to get your online training program off the ground. Don't find yourself at the end of next year wondering why you didn't.

Shane Austin, CSP, TN, is a safety and risk management specialist at PureSafety, a leading provider of online safety training and risk management solutions. Shane has over 10 years of industry experience in manufacturing, food service/distribution and general industry safety. He can be reached at (615) 277.3123 or at [email protected]

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