Why Online Learning Is the Most Valuable Millennial Training Tool

3 min read
May 25, 2015

Gen Y: The Generation Primed for Online CoursesThe media relentlessly portrays millennials as entitled and incompetent. They want to reach for the stars but don’t have the skills to crawl out of Mom’s basement. These young workers are among the world’s least skilled, according to a study from Princeton-based Educational Testing Service.

People also say this generation is tech savvy, which means they love to do everything online, including learning the skills they purportedly don’t have. In fact, several popular online course providers have a high percentage of millennial subscribers. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Codecademy: largest group of users are millennials

  • edX: 64.5% millennials

  • Thinkful: roughly 70% millennials

  • Udemy: large portion of millennial users, according to company (specific data not available yet)

  • Viking Code School: majority millennials

Higher education is struggling to supply the skills, and it’s up to employers to capitalize on Gen Y’s strengths by offering them more online training.

A Custom-Built School

When Century 21 Real Estate wanted to train their employees online and internally, they worked with Udemy for Business to build Century 21 University, a Udemy-style learning library that addresses company-specific skills. This is now available as a portal for all employees.

Often companies try — and fail — to build these courses themselves. Century 21 Real Estate knew they lacked the skills internally and chose to outsource the program, with great success. On the other hand, Udemy is a popular online course provider that allows people to take and build online courses.

Millennial employees at Century 21 Real Estate are satisfied with the fun and engaging platform, according to Udemy for Business Vice President and General Manager Paul Sebastien.

“Millennials expect the experience to feel like entertainment,” Sebastien said.

He cited a study by Ernst and Young that shows an increasing amount of this generation is becoming managers. Sebastien said the biggest “pain point” their partner companies suffer from is a deficit in management skills.

The Gen Y skills problem exacerbates this management competence issue, but it’s primarily a result of the Peter Principle: the idea that companies are forced to promote or shift employees to a position of incompetence. Think of Joffrey on the throne, and the havoc his lack of experience and maturity wreaks on the kingdom.

Sebastien said a number of companies he’s worked with needed management training after promoting a programmer to managing a development team. The companies knew the potential drawbacks of doing this but preferred to promote employees with company experience rather than hiring a new employee with management experience.

Online training services such as Udemy for Business enable employers to mitigate the Peter Principle, especially with these young workers. It’s also more cost-effective to train employees who have already proven themselves. Employers do this by adopting a company-wide training platform or funding training based on an employee’s preferences.

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Paving Their Own Path

Andrew Shield started working for the New Zealand branch of accounting software company Xero as a junior technical support specialist. He rose to lead technical specialist and, once he was unable to advance further with his skills, shifted to front-end development.

“It was almost the next progression or step,” Shield said. “I was helping customers but I would always get a developer to fix the issue.”

He needed affordable and effective training to become one of those developers, so he chose Thinkful because of their online mentorship approach.

“I needed someone to talk to so I could filter through all the rubbish and do things properly.”

Shield proved his skills by working on a marketing web page for his company. This impressed his superiors, so they granted his request to become a front-end developer. The company paid for his next Thinkful course on Node.js, which made him a more valuable programmer. Shield was allowed to take a half day off from work each week to study and communicate with his mentor.

His employer never worried about him taking his new skills to another company, according to Shield. He also owned stocks in the company, which further incentivized him to stay.

Companies Getting Left Behind

Despite many successful online training initiatives from employers like Century 21 Real Estate or Xero, employers are generally slow to update training practices for new generations and their skills needs.

Employees spend around 30 hours a year on company-sponsored training, according to reports from The Association for Talent Development. This isn’t enough time to learn new technical skills — these 30 hours are usually broken up or partially spent on soft skills. They’re expensive too — $1,195 dollars per employee in 2012.

Compared to 100 hours at $1,000 for Thinkful or less than $100 for a Udemy course, which is an effective choice for millennial employees working full-time at enterprises?

Reports from The Association for Talent Development also show employers are adopting online training at a slow rate. Companies have the ability to update their skills training faster than colleges, so it’s time for them to pick up the pace and invest in Gen Y.



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