Can AI help Gen Z workers make up lost ground?

Gen Z workers started their careers at a tough time. Will their native AI fluency help them get ahead?

Gen Z has had a hard landing into the workforce. Starting jobs amid the global pandemic, many of these new workers have missed out on gaining essential hard- and soft skills usually gleaned by working alongside older colleagues.

However, as the first truly digital generation, their innate fluency with technology could help them make up some of that ground – especially as AI becomes a hugely important part of the modern workplace.

Emma Parry, a professor of human resource management and head of the Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management, UK, has seen how Gen Z’s openness to new technology is putting them at the forefront of this new way of working.

“With AI, people tend to fall into a dystopian or utopian outlook, and younger people normally fall into the latter,” she says. “While there isn’t huge amounts of quality research into this yet, anecdotally, young people are more accepting and willing to adapt AI into their daily lives and at work.”

Stephanie Forrest, the founder of TFD, a London-based strategic communications consultancy in the tech space, has seen first-hand how Gen Z employees use AI technology with ease, and are quickly becoming essential in the workplace. “They don’t question [the technology] – they simply see it as a way to optimise what they are already doing.” 

At TFD, she says, Gen Z were the first employees to experiment with generative AI tools such as Open AI’s ChatGPT for tasks including admin, research and email composition. “Since AI is so new for everyone, it puts Gen Z employees on a level footing with other members of a team, providing them with a way to meaningfully contribute. AI enables forward-looking companies to learn from younger employees, in terms of how they use technology to be more efficient,” says Forrest.

Professor Weiguo (Patrick) Fan at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, US, notes how many young people are prioritising learning these skills as a “strategic career move”, whether through experimenting in their personal lives, taking online courses or pursuing traditional educational avenues.

This knowledge can help Gen Z contribute to businesses in ways their less AI-fluent colleagues may not be able to, which can make younger employees especially valuable to their employers. “Gen Z employees can leverage their AI knowledge to innovate and streamline processes and help bridge the gap between technical and non-technical roles,” says Fan.

Along with proving their worth, experts say younger generations may be able to teach older generations new skills (Credit: Getty Images)

Along with proving their worth, experts say younger generations may be able to teach older generations new skills (Credit: Getty Images)

Tech Decoded

For more technology news and insights, sign up to our Tech Decoded newsletter. The twice-weekly email decodes the biggest developments in global technology, with analysis from BBC correspondents around the world. Sign up for free here.

This can help them stand out. For instance, at VEM Medical, a US-based medical tool company, “Young employees’ ability to use AI technology to automate tedious jobs and optimize workflows has grown our productivity dramatically,” says Derrick Hathaway, sales director.

Additionally, says Fan, “Gen Z’s familiarity with AI helps these younger employees adapt to these changes and understand the implications of AI on their roles, making them flexible and dynamic employees.” Fan adds how these skills are especially valuable in industries including technology, finance, healthcare, marketing and manufacturing, where companies are rapidly integrating AI and machine learning.

Young people may also be key when it comes to shaping ethical AI practises, a rising concern across all industries, as the technology gathers pace. “Gen Z, known for their values-driven approach to work, could play an essential role in leading to better user experiences and more inclusive technology,” says Fan.

Additionally, one of Gen Z’s challenges entering the workforce as remote employees has been disconnection with older colleagues. But, says Forrest, their knowledge of AI could help them build those bridges – and even reverse mentor. Forrest has seen this in action across TFD’s 20 multigenerational employees. “We are bringing people with both little and lots of experience together and learning from each other.”

However, it’s important to recognise that fluency in one skill won’t necessarily erase some of the professional barriers Gen Z has to overcome.

While technical know-how will always provide professional value, Parry argues workers might still have a way to go before AI skills are truly needed across the board. “We picture that all organisations are AI focused, but that’s not the reality yet. The technology is moving quickly but the adoption isn’t perhaps not as quick as we think,” she says.

And employers are looking for well-rounded employees and technical skills are only one part of the puzzle. “Other skills, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving and adaptability continue to be highly valued,” says Fan. He also highlights how it’s possible to train employees in AI, so young workers won’t end up being the only employees with these skills. 

Ultimately, AI fluency might not entirely counter the setbacks Gen Z has experienced while entering the workforce during the pandemic. Yet it seems to be helping – giving young workers a well-needed edge, and setting them up well for a career in an ever-evolving workplace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *