Ageism in Training – How to Teach a Varied Workforce

I have not had the…luxury…of teaching children as my cohort. I have trained my fair share of adults who have a similar maturity level though. I often consider that teaching children would be more fulfilling because they are so genuine. Kids like to learn. They are sponges, soaking up the world. Adults on the other hand are usually just working a job for a paycheck. That can, sometimes, be harder to work with.

I believe myself to be a very merit based. I hired lots of people of different gender and race. I did find myself struggling to accept older candidates though. The reason being, in my fast paced and demanding world, the learning curve was just too long. I needed people who could pick up concepts quickly and implement immediately. Younger people just learn faster than older people, you can’t argue with science.

Over the years, I learned a lot and my perceptions changed. Yes, older candidates learned slower, but they had a foundation of experience to pull from for decision-making that younger candidates did not. That was valuable. Ultimately, I found a balanced mix had the best results.

I learned a lot about how to teach and train while working with just a varied workforce. Every time we had a change of process, I would be responsible for teaching it to all of them. I had about 5 years of trial and error and these are what I found to be crucial for teaching:

Street Cred – If you don’t have a deep-rooted credibility, you will not be able to teach them anything. Both the young and the old, will choose not to accept your teaching due to this lack of credability. The older will often chose your lack of experience to discredit you. The young will think they know newer better ways. If they do not respect you, they will not learn from you.

Start with the Why – Regardless of age, if someone understands why this change is happening, they will find it easier to accept and implement. The letter of the law will work itself out as long as the spirit is alive and well. This is a crucial step, so a lot of time should be spent here. Let your team/students argue and wrestle with the idea. You probably won’t come to consensus, especially if the result is more work for them, but if they can find the why to be reasonable, you will have success.

Muscle Memory – or, Create the Habit. No one learns anything as soon as they hear it. Most of us have to hear it and write it or do it before it sinks in. That mixed with the idea that it takes 21 days to create a habit (assuming they are doing it every single day, multiple times a day), you get the infamous “learning curve,” or how long it takes to get everyone on board, which is never 100%. To assist with muscle memory, create systems, or SOPs, or even just a 1 page cheat sheet to reference. Some sort of structure to help them make decisions based on the change, and not on the old way. Also, follow-up constantly, for about 21 days. Your team is going to get sick of it, and that’s OK. Once you are confident that they are all making decisions in concordance with the new process, back off the follow up and trust the team to operate.

These are principles that have worked for me in real life and I will continue to use as we build our business. Try it out and let me know how it goes for your business or job.

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