Bridging the gap: training multiple generations

Why storytelling, critical thinking, and gamification transcend demographics

Bridging the gap: training multiple generations
National Safety Council expo and congress keynote session titled 'Effectiveness of Training Across Generations' on Oct 23, 2023. From left to right: Taylor Abel, Tamara Coppens, Amanda Ladner

How do you provide effective safety training in a workforce that has never been as demographically diverse as it is now? That was the question being tackled during a keynote session at the National Safety Council congress and expo in New Orleans this week. Storytelling, critical thinking, and gamification emerged as best strategies to reach all age groups, from Generation Z to Millennials to Generation X to Baby Boomers.

Storytelling bridges gaps

“Storytelling and deep connections create the best learning experiences,” said Tamara Coppens, environmental health and safety expertise principal with Dow Inc. "There's a theme around storytelling that really transcends all generations. As humans, we've always been connected through stories.”

Coppens says learning starts with great storytelling, “and then that is followed by opportunity for people to make their deep connections.” Once that connection has been made on an emotionally powerful level, Coppens says that’s when workers let their guards down and are more open to learning.

How dumb questions foster critical thinking

The conversation also touched on critical thinking in the age of technology. Encouraging questions and creating a safe space for curiosity can lead to more thoughtful and engaged learners.

"Teaching people to ask questions and making people feel safe to learn by asking the dumb questions is key,” said Amanda Ladner, senior training specialist with The Chemours Company.

When it came to the delivery of safety training, the experts highlighted the need for a flexible approach. Face-to-face training is considered crucial for certain high-risk situations where immediate feedback and validation are essential. However, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of web-based training and webinars, offering flexibility and convenience. According to Ladner, "the best way to deliver the message and build knowledge and skills is what's going to be effective."

Asking the “dumb” questions, whether its about how to use a particular type of technology, or its about historical best practices, “that’s where you get a Gen Z and a Baby Boomer and you help them teach each other,” said Coppens.

Make it fun

The discussion also delved into making safety training enjoyable and effective. The experts stressed the importance of making training sessions fun and relevant through gamification. One creative approach mentioned involved a blindfolded card activity that promoted trust and communication among trainees.

“Friendly game of competition is always fun,” said Ladner, and “simply having games inside of a classroom is an easy way to engage.” But Coppens also debunked the notion that gamification must include technology like virtual reality or web-based apps and games. “You can make things fun, and people will play without it necessarily having a high-tech component.”

Safety training is evolving to meet the needs of a changing workforce. Engaging learners through storytelling, fostering critical thinking, and adapting training methods to make them fun will be among the most effective strategies to get safety messages to resonate with workers. "At the end of the day, the storytelling, potential communication really links these people together."

The session highlighted the importance of adapting to the times while keeping a strong focus on the human element of safety education. As workplaces continue to change, effective safety training will remain a critical component of keeping employees safe and informed.