Employee Training

Young Workers No Longer Get the On-the-Job Training They Need -- So They're Finding It Elsewhere

With companies training people less, the most valuable path to success may be pioneering your own career.
Young Workers No Longer Get the On-the-Job Training They Need -- So They're Finding It Elsewhere
Image credit: Shannon Fagan | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO of Upwork
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's an inside joke among execs that goes something like this:

A chief financial officer, looking to save costs on training employees, asks the chief executive officer, "What if we spend money on training and they leave?"

To which the CEO responds, "What if we don't and they stay?"

Related: 4 Ways to Train Employees Effectively

Unfortunately, over the last several years, it's the cost-cutting CFOs who have been winning out way too often.

According to Peter Capelli, director of The Wharton School's Center for Human Resources, companies want workers they don't have to educate, and his research has found that employers don't train young workers like they used to.

In 1979, per Capelli, the average young worker received 2.5 weeks of training per year. By 1995, training time fell to just 11 hours.

More recent comparable data has been hard to find, says Capelli, but the Wharton professor says that by 2011 "only a fifth of employees reported receiving on-the-job training from their employers over the past five years."

What's going on here is something that's often called the tragedy of the commons. Society as a whole is better off if workers are properly trained. Trained workers mean more productive ones, which mean more productive companies and greater overall economic output. However, individual companies are better off if they leave the cost of training to their competitors. More companies these days, it seems, want a free ride.

Related: Managers Who Create Growth Opportunities See Greater Employee Engagement

Of course, the consequences for young professionals are tragic and costly: Traditional jobs aren't providing them with new skills and therefore aren't setting them up for success in their careers.

Unsurprisingly, young workers aren't happy with their employers, so they're leaving -- constantly. Disengaged from their jobs unlike any other generation and seeking new skills, they're job-hopping. In 2015, according to Gallup, millennials changed jobs three times more often than older generations. Gallup estimates that turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion per year.

More options available

As depressing as those stats can sound, the truth is that recent grads and young workers have more options to learn skills and craft their careers on their own.

Since 2011, when Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, began to gain public attention, their popularity has grown exponentially. Last year, by one estimate, 23 million people signed up to take their first MOOC. All told, since 2011, more than 800 universities have offered over 9,000 courses to 81 million registered users, according to the same report.

Sure, MOOC students want to enrich themselves for enrichment sake but learning work-relevant skills are a key motivation, according to multiple studies.

Related: Your Top Employees Are Learning New Skills on Their Own Time. Here's What You Should Do.

Going their own way

For many recent graduates, expectations of entering the workforce haven't matched up with reality; Gallup found that millennials are less "engaged" with their full-time jobs than any generation before them.

But, there are a lot of reasons for hope. Enabled by new technologies, today's young professionals have more opportunities than ever before to train themselves and be their own bosses. And, it turns out, millennials have already gotten the message: According to Upwork's Freelancing in America 2017 report, young workers -- unhappy with full-time jobs and aware of the fact that employers won't train them -- are increasingly choosing to go their own ways, becoming their own bosses and training themselves.

The report also found that almost half of millennials (47 percent to be exact) have freelanced over the past 12 months -- a participation rate higher than any other generation. And 56 percent of those millennial freelancers have participated in skill-related education within the last six months (versus 35 percent of gen- Xers and 28 percent of baby boomers), according to the survey.

And to be clear, the vast majority of millennial freelancers are doing so because they want to. Sixty-four percent of them say they started freelancing more by choice, not necessity.

Related: Why So Many Businesses Mess Up Employee Development

The takeaway for hiring managers

This trend means that reaching today's talented youth is transforming before our own eyes. Put simply, to leverage the skills of many of the most talented, self-driven young workers, businesses increasingly require different hiring strategies.

Many HR departments have taken notice. Half of U.S. companies are using freelancers, according to Upwork's 2018 Future Workforce Report. That's up 16 percentage points from the same time last year.

For those who haven't taken notice, as a new graduating class enters the workforce, now's the perfect time to rethink your hiring strategy -- because if you don't, you'll miss out on some of the best talent.

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