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How to upskill Gen Z and engage them in a post-pandemic workplace

Young, diverse group of women in modern office space looking at laptop.

According to a Barnes and Nobles report, 51% of Gen Z's learn best by doing. Image: Pexels.

Victoria Rubanovich
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This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit
  • The current state of the world poses serious challenges to onboarding and training entry-level employees.
  • But as digital natives, Gen Z employees are highly responsive learners, given the right tools and methods of learning.
  • We explore how organizations can redesign their training programmes to suit this generation of talent.

Deloitte refers to entry-level jobs as a “necessary training ground” for early career talent. However, retaining and upskilling young professionals at work seems ever more challenging now. The global pandemic has placed early career talent and fresh graduates in a challenging situation: Gen Z’s little to zero experience working in physical offices, lack of opportunities to socialize with (and learn from) their colleagues, and poor onboarding may end up becoming a huge turnover and skills gap problem.

Upskilling Gen Z employees is not only a challenge in the post-pandemic world, but a requirement to retain young employees. Research has demonstrated that Gen Z professionals are highly motivated by development and learning opportunities when choosing employers. So, it seems reasonable to start training for career growth at the onboarding stage.

Compared to previous generations, digital natives bring completely different skill sets, learning habits, and motivation to the post-COVID workplace. Let’s explore how companies can translate these differences into workplace engagement and help young talent grow on the job and acquire new skills. So how should organizations reshape their training programs to fit the Z generation?

Survey conducted by Robert Half.
Survey conducted by Robert Half.

How Gen Z learn

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with smartphones glued to their hands. That’s how they communicate, consume information, connect to opportunities and, more importantly, learn new things. They are active, fast, and independent learners who want to connect everything they hear, see and read to the real world. Rather than discouraging Gen Z’s constant need to use mobile devices, we can accelerate upskilling by allowing use of smartphones on the job to our advantage and turn these devices into learning tools.

It’s important to take into account Gen Z’s very short attention span – about 8 seconds, compared to about 12 seconds for Gen Y. It means saying no to the long-format training programmes and complex explanations. Instead, organizations will benefit from delivering easy-to-understand learning content through tools young generations use everyday.

Learning by doing

Gen Z seems to be more practical than other generations. Lecture-style learning is no longer relevant and will not drive engagement of a Gen Z employee. Around 51% of Gen Z talent learns best through hands-on learning experiences, while only 12% learn by listening. For organizations to engage a young professional in compliance training or equip them with a new hard or soft skill it is essential to create a learning-by-doing environment.

Experiential learning connected to the real world can provide an opportunity to reflect, analyze, test and experiment. The more practical a skill or training seems, the more engaged a Gen Z professional will be. There are many Gen Z friendly formats: serious games, simulations, case studies, hackathons, challenges, skill marathons, you name it.

Getting to know Gen Z: Barnes and Nobles report.
Getting to know Gen Z: Barnes and Nobles report.

Technology as a learning tool

Training an entry-level employee resembles marketing in some way: you need to reach your target audience in their native habitat. Moreover, social networks, gamified apps, or communication tools (such as WhatsApp or Slack) can accelerate the learning process if companies take advantage of Gen Z’s natural desire to connect and learn from their peers in the online environment. If mobile learning is not on your L&D must-have list, you may want to reconsider.

Kahoot Gen Z in the workplace report.
Kahoot Gen Z in the workplace report.


Early career professionals don’t just want to do their jobs, they want to matter, grow and experience. According to 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, redesigning work around employee experience is a must for companies that want to thrive. Rotation, cross-training, or even mentorship programmes across different departments can help nurture Gen Z’s curiosity and increase motivation to grow within the company. While lack of experience may discourage some managers to provide Gen Z employees with an opportunity to take initiative and explore, they may be surprised by the quality of ideas and creativity of young employees.

Career progress as a key driver to learn

While Gen Z professionals naturally want to learn skills with the immediate on-the-job application, they will be even more engaged in learning if the skills are directly related to career growth. Around 76% of Gen Z employees connect learning to career progress – more than other generations. While they grasp technical or hard skills pretty fast, and can learn independently through available online resources, lack of offline interactions makes them more vulnerable and inexperienced when it comes to soft skills. Designing interactive programmes that allow Gen Z employees to develop both technical and interpersonal skills will, in most cases, increase learning outcomes and accelerate upskilling.

LinkedIn Learning Report 2021.
LinkedIn Learning Report 2021.

The number of Gen Z employees will keep growing over the years. Upskilling them in the early stages of their career is crucial for creating diverse and inclusive workplaces and taking advantage of their tech savviness. It’s important to create spaces for them to test, analyze, and come up with their own solutions and through technology they understand and use every day. And if you see them watching a TikTok video on the job, they might be learning Excel!

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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