Safety is important in any field, but the stakes are particularly high for construction. Case in point: fall protection was the most commonly cited OSHA violation in 2021.

Most construction leaders recognize the dangers of their profession – and how inadequate safety training contributes to that danger. But establishing a comprehensive training program isn’t easy, especially with a cross-generational workforce.

Here, I’ll share four ways you can optimize your training for the latest generation that’s joined the workforce (Gen Z) and how doing so can improve the level of safety at your construction site.


1. Make your lessons bite-sized

now-famous study from 2017 revealed that today’s employees are only able to dedicate around one percent of their time, or 24 minutes per week, to learning and development. And while Gen Z is no exception, we can’t attribute their limited training time to technology avoidance – far from it, actually. A typical member of Gen Z spends anywhere from six to nine hours per day consuming content, whether on streaming services or on social media.

Point being: Gen Z spends a great deal of time switching among various devices and modes of entertainment. That tendency to switch has reduced their willingness to linger on content that doesn’t quickly capture their attention and keep them engaged.

Rather than attempting to correct this trait with mandatory hour-long lectures, consider leaning into it by offering bite-sized lessons, also referred to as microlearning.

Sometimes microlearning by itself isn’t possible due to regulatory requirements or the complexity of certain topics. But limiting the length of your sessions when possible helps increase the odds your Gen Z employees will pay attention, retain the information, and finish the training. 

Consider what’s more appealing: five three-minute online modules that you can complete throughout your week or one 15-minute session you need to finish in a single sitting. It’s likely the latter, and that’s because bite-sized lessons offer greater scheduling flexibility and make the training more approachable for your Gen Z team members.


2. Integrate elements from various learning styles

It’s generally understood now that people learn differently. But while the data behind assigning one optimal learning style to each individual is shaky at best, most experts agree that the best training integrates visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements.

Let’s say you want to effectively communicate the idea behind a lockout / tagout (LOTO) procedure by combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic lessons. Here’s how you might do that:

Visual. Share two videos: one of a proper LOTO sequence and one of an incorrect sequence. Challenge your team members to identify which video is incorrect – and where it goes wrong.

Auditory. Record yourself going over your company’s LOTO steps. See if there’s a mnemonic device you can create beyond LOTO.

Kinesthetic. Walk your Gen Z team members around the construction site and allow them to safely practice the LOTO procedure in a hands-on exercise. You may also demonstrate it to them yourself.

Applying these elements to your training helps ensure that every Gen Z employee can grasp the information and apply it to their jobs – no matter their particular skill set or learning preferences.


3. Leverage mobile devices

On average, members of Gen Z received their first smartphone five years earlier than Millennials did (age 12 compared with age 17). Growing up with smartphones has shaped the way Gen Z learns and interacts with the world.

Appeal to that mobile device usage. Remember, the goal with training isn’t to make sure your employees learn the way you do; it’s to make sure they understand the information you do.

Optimizing your training for mobile devices is another way you can make training accessible for your Gen Z employees. But the key word here is “optimizing.” Just because your employees can access online training via their smartphone doesn’t mean it’s a productive experience when they do. If you want to leverage mobile devices, you’ll want to ensure that you – or your training provider – have created a mobile-friendly platform.

Once you have that mobile-friendly platform, see how imaginative you can get with your content. Gen Z watches 68 videos per day on average. Consider whether short-form instructional videos have a place in your safety training program.


4. Encourage self-paced learning and personalize lessons

Nobody likes the feeling of being conveyor-belted along mandatory training courses. Sure, you’re working with Gen Z employees who likely don’t have years of experience. But it’s possible that some do.

Personalizing lessons and offering self-paced learning allows those Gen Z employees to showcase their insights and move through training at their own speed. After all, this is a generation with strong opinions and lots of confidence. They want to prove themselves.

But to be clear, self-paced learning only works when you’re continually assessing knowledge, whether through exams or live demonstrations. Your training program should offer comprehensive assessments that adequately cover the material. In other words, unless your Gen Z employees have prior knowledge on a topic, they shouldn’t be able to skip the course and still pass the assessment.

However, once you’ve administered knowledge assessments and understand your Gen Z employees’ proficiencies, you can personalize training from there.

For instance, if one of your employees is struggling with fall protection guidelines, you might consider adding relevant fall protection-focused modules to their training, whether that on ladder safety or proper use of fall arrest equipment. Or if one of your employees has previous experience with hazard communications, you may allow them to take the assessment on safety data sheets.


Your construction site’s safety rests on the quality of your training for Gen Z

Creating personalized, multimodal, and bite-sized content doesn’t just grab the attention of your Gen Z employees; it engages your entire workforce. And as the Gen Z working population grows – Gen Z will make up nearly one-third of the workforce by 2030 – this dynamic approach to training may soon become a baseline expectation for establishing a culture of safety.

Your training program is one of the most important components of your workplace’s safety. It’s also an investment. By committing to your training program, and regularly refining it, you’re not just protecting your employees; you’re cultivating an environment that develops careers and maximizes productivity.