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New Tactics Needed to Train Gen-Y

May 11, 2009 By: Emily Hanna


This article was written Emily Hanna of HotelWorldNetwork.com, the sister site of TravelAgentCentral.com. We believe it has many lessons for the travel advisor market as well.

National Report–Team members from Signature Worldwide, an international training and marketing company that specializes in the hospitality industry, recently went into a typical hotel training session like they would any other.

But this time they found a marked change: Trainees were text messaging one another, talking to each other and seemingly not paying attention to what was being taught.

“At first, [the trainers] thought it was just rude,” said Lisa Kalmar, instructional designer at Signature Worldwide. Soon after, they discovered the trainees were a different kind of group—one that required extra mental stimulation, more group interaction and increased technology.

The trainees were millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation. Members of this generation are generally considered those born between about 1980 and 2000. Known for being tech-savvy multi-taskers, millennials have a different work ethic, different values and different skills.

Because of this, they not only learn differently but also interact differently—both areas that could create problems for hoteliers. But, with proper training, workers in this new generation could prove to be an invaluable resource.

Training Day

As Signature’s trainers found, millennials require more stimulation, which can be achieved in part through technology. “You have to use a lot more technology in the training because they identify with technology,” said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “You need a lot more computer training or other electronic means—like my favorite, the iPod.”

Additionally, their shorter attention spans require briefer and more interactive training sessions, Kalmar said. Signature’s reinforcement classes, which take place after the original trainings, usually last about four hours but have been adjusted down to two hours. And the classes reward participation.

But the best way to train is focusing on how the individual employees work best.

“You need to come up with some solutions to best connect with them,” Kalmar said. “It’s about having a better understanding of them, not having a bias toward them, realizing the potential that they have and then coming up with methods to be able to best connect with them and tap into their potential.”

Moving On Up

Millennials often are stereotyped as having a sense of entitlement—they don’t want to work their way to the top; they’d rather start at the top on day one. “They were told throughout their lives that they were great and they can do anything they want,” Kalmar said. “When you enter the workforce, you can’t expect to be VP on the first day.”

They do, however, need to realize that through training they eventually can get to a point of management. Leo Campbell, manager of education and career development for Loews Hotels, said he often has students who graduate from hospitality school at age 23 and say they want to be a general manager by 30. And while Campbell notes the great ambition, he said it’s unlikely to happen, especially in luxury properties, and new employees need on-the-job experience to succeed.

“Our industry is unique in the sense that now you see the proliferation of a lot of schools geared toward hospitality. That wasn’t the case before; either you fell into the industry or it was a service industry and you were going to pay your dues,” he said. “Now you have a great number of students who are coming through and they have a lot of the book knowledge you need. But a lot of the time, the people who are successful are not the book-smart people, they’re the been-there-done-that people.”

For that reason, Loews requires a one-year management-training program in which the Loews staff puts trainees through varying levels of leadership responsibility, Campbell said.

“They’re the most talented, smartest people you’ll ever want to meet, the millennials are, but sometimes there’s no substitute for experience. If a hotel’s overbooked, there’s no training that’s going to teach you how to handle that properly. It’s really getting into the nitty-gritty and understanding what is going to be the best way to handle it, to live through it, to go through it,” he said.

Working With The Guest

It also is important to train a millennial to understand what the customer is going through, Kalmar said, so Signature Worldwide focuses on training employees through a guest’s perspective. “When you turn the tables on them and have them see the other side of things, they understand then, as an employee, what their job is,” she said.

Additionally, Signature trains hotel employees on good customer service across generations because the views of what makes good customer service varies widely, she said, comparing the customer service baby boomers and Gen X-ers expect to the character Sam the Butcher on “The Brady Bunch.”

“It was very personal; he used the customers’ names, he knew everyone who walked through the door and could talk to them on not only a professional but a personal level to understand what their needs are and do what he can to provide the best service for their needs. … I think that’s changed … and now you walk into a McDonald’s and if someone smiles at you and fills your order accurately, that’s great customer service. To a baby boomer, that’s not up to their standards.”

Conversely, Kalmar said, millennials think great customer service is when an employee is there to help if needed but otherwise leaves you alone.

“Maybe it’s because millennials aren’t used to having that face-to-face interaction that much and just aren’t comfortable,” she said. “You also have some issues of using the guest or customer’s name. It was a sign of respect and providing great customer service for someone knowing you by name back in the boomer generation, whereas it seems like an intrusion in your personal space and privacy for a millennial.”

Continue The Curve

Training at every level—from customer service tips to how to become a GM—must continue well beyond the first day. Campbell suggests a mentor program and also putting employees in positions where they must make decisions and learn from them. “They’re hungry for training,” Campbell said. “Everything they can do to get education and development, they want it.


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