Jenny Emby from Skillsoft gave a breakdown of the four generations in the workplace, and their characteristic attitudes to work and learning. This sort of breakdown is quite ubiquitous suddenly and I wonder what hard stats are behind it or if it's all just informed speculation.
I don't remember the exact ages she gave the groups but the most interesting part was about their relation to each other.
The 'silent generation' in the workplace – those in their 60s and over, grew up in in a world where a job was not something to take for granted and poverty was just a paypacket away. So you do what you're told, work hard and respect hierarchy. They built the big companies and institutions that many of us work in, they set the tone and ethos.
The Baby Boomers – now aged 44-62 – were brought up in relative affluence; what they look for in a job is not survival but fulfilment. They are more relaxed in their attitude to hierarchy and more questioning of authority but still tend to work within the values of their parents' generation. These are the people who currently run the companies the 'silent generation' built.
Gen X and Gen Y (under 43 and under 27?) keep work at arm's length. Work is an aspect – one aspect – of their social life. Employer loyalty is low, career loyalty isn't an issue and if they don't get what they want from a job, they'll move on.
In terms of learning, the Boomers are used to, and often don't see beyond, the top-down approach of 'here is information – memorise it and do the job correctly as instructed'. Gen X and Y don't want to wait for the Truth to be handed down from senior management. If they need to know something they'll find someone who knows it and will then share it. This is a generalisation, but there seems to be evidence to support it. Also, interestingly, that young people's brains are becoming wired differently as a result of (and in support of) multi-tasking in a way that older brains are not. One trainer in my group spoke of realising that a course member looking at his laptop while the trainer was speaking wasn't being insulting – he was taking it in while holding an MSN conversation.
A later speaker, Graeme Duncan of Caspian Learning, had less confidence in age as the crucial factor and more in how 'tech-savvy' a person was; many older people are more up on social networking than some younger people.