Millennials are often unfairly characterized as entitled, tech-addicted dreamers, but that narrative isn’t helpful or productive for the companies that need to hire, manage, and retain them.

Millennials, the oldest of whom are just reaching their mid-30s, are already the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Instead of dwelling on perceived negatives, employers should focus on what millennials have to offer, how to maximize their contributions, and how to groom them for additional responsibilities. Indeed, this is the way we set any worker up for success.

Employers need to embrace their younger talent and strive to understand the millennial mindset. Millennials may approach their careers differently than previous generations, but that’s to be expected. The world of work has changed considerably, and millennials face career challenges their older coworkers didn’t confront.

Millennials are entering a workplace that’s much flatter than it was 10 or 20 years ago. They don’t receive as much employer-provided training yet they’re expected to perform at a higher level than ever before. They also have less institutional memory to draw upon, as people change jobs more frequently and Baby Boomers rapidly age out. It’s hard to learn a new skill when you can’t always rely on the person next to you to teach it.

Best practices to train and retain

Millennials struggle just like the rest of us to keep up with the relentless rate of change in the workplace. Traditional higher education can no longer prepare anyone for the evolving skills needed over the course of a career, even those who graduated only a year ago.

So, how can companies develop millennials into the leaders and managers of tomorrow?

  1. Establish a culture that encourages and rewards continuous learning.
  2. The flipped classroom technique works exceptionally well; assign core training in advance, and use instructor-led training to facilitate conversations and really address challenges.
  3. Don’t limit available training to skills only relevant to their current role.
  4. As a corollary to the above, ensure your training strategy can respond to a changing world. Even if you don’t know how the world will change in 6-12 months, your training strategy will have to support it.
  5. Help them develop soft business skills. We all have to learn how to conduct a meeting, interview a candidate, and conduct 1:1 meetings with direct reports.
  6. Deliver content the way millennials want to consume it: on-demand video that can be accessed wherever, whenever.
  7. Provide feedback on progress and set goals; gamification can be extremely effective for some teams.
  8. Pair them with more experienced mentors; this has the dual payoff of supporting millennials while also capturing institutional knowledge.

Millennials are tech-savvy, self-aware, and eager to learn and grow. Employers can tap into the strengths of millennials, but they’ve got to get it right and meet younger workers on their own terms. Millennials won’t sit still for the old-school training and development companies have historically rolled out. And if they don’t feel valued and recognized, they won’t stick around. Rather than see this attitude as an irritant, it’s actually a great opportunity for companies to up their game and nurture more engaged, successful employees.