By Melissa J. Anderson

If you knew your company couldn’t give you a raise, what would you want instead? That was the question People 1st Training Company asked over 2000 adults in the UK in September.

According to People 1st, the most popular response was an extra day off (31%), but the second most popular answer was further training and career development (24%).

But the same was not the case for younger workers. Despite the frequent discussion of Gen Y’s desire for more work/life balance and more time for their personal interests, younger workers’ most popular response to what they would like instead of a pay raise was career training and development. According to the survey, respondents aged between 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 picked training opportunities as their top answer (33% and 35% respectively).

Rather than a day to relax, workers 34 and under would rather hone their skills to get to the next level. How can companies take advantage of this to better motivate members of this age group, who, according to a recent study by Mercer, is more likely to say they are seriously considering changing companies in the near future?

Motivating Younger Workers

According to Mercer’s survey, UK employees today are considerably less committed to their jobs than in the past, with 36% saying they are seriously considering leaving – and for workers under 35, that percentage increases to four in ten.

Fifty-two percent of UK respondents to the Mercer study said learning and development was “very important to their motivation and engagement.” Interestingly, according to the same study, the percentage of workers (54%) who said they were provided “good opportunities to learn and improve” has decreased from 64% in 2005.

The decrease in overall loyalty coincides with the perceived decrease in learning opportunities. And younger workers, the ones most likely to be looking for a new career opportunity, are saying they would prefer career training in lieu of a pay raise.  If companies want to retain employees in this group, and stem costly turnover, they should be sure to provide the learning opportunities they are looking for.

Career Development Motivates Employees in Most Age Group

According to People 1st, 33% of survey respondents said they’d prefer leadership and management training, 22% indicated IT and social media skills as their top choice, and 13% said they would like finance and administrative training.

In fact, providing career development opportunities can go a long way with every age group. Sharon Glancy, Business Solutions Director at People 1st Training Company, explained:

“With businesses wary of the economy falling into a double dip recession, resource is stretched and finding ways to keep employees happy and motivated in a cost effective way is a real challenge. Offering staff training and supporting their career development with your company is a win win situation. Sixty-nine percent of those we surveyed said they feel more valued by their company when they are given the option of having further training and employers are gaining a workforce with the tools, skills and knowledge to do their jobs better.”

Older workers – those aged 55 and up – were less likely to be interested in job training. Only 16% between the ages of 55 and 64 chose it in lieu of a pay raise, and only 14% of workers over 65 was interested in job training.

Glacy warned, “However, with people needing to work longer now, older workers should not be complacent and need to embrace any opportunities offered for training, or manage their own continued learning, to ensure their skills stay current in a very competitive jobs marketplace.”

Career development isn’t just for younger workers. As the global economic situation remains uncertain, it’s critical that workers at every age keep their skills sharp and up to date.