To capitalize on untapped Gen-Z talent, businesses should prioritize training and reevaluate traditional education requirements on resumes.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

July 5, 2022

7 Min Read
Generation Z written on a blackboard in the shape of a head.
designer491 via Alamy stock photos

Despite their status as the first digital native generation, less than one-third of Generation Z believe they are equipped for the digital-first jobs of the future.

Moreover, less than a quarter of Gen-Zers believe they have the advanced digital workplace skills needed to succeed in the business areas they view as most important, including collaborative technology, digital administration, and cybersecurity.

These were among the results of a Salesforce’s Global Digital Skills Index, which amassed the insights of more than 23,000 workers across 19 countries.

While most respondents (83%) said they could claim “advanced” or “intermediate” skills for tech applications like social media or commonplace digital communication skills, that confidence drops sharply when the knowledge is translated to the workplace.

Kris Lande, senior vice president of the Trailblazer Ecosystem at Salesforce, explains companies need digitally skilled talent, but the upcoming workforce doesn't feel ready to operate in this world, and they don't feel equipped to learn or know where to start.

“While the digital skills gap has been a trend for a long time, finding skilled talent has been exacerbated by the increased pace of business innovation, especially when it comes to digital transformation -- a fundamental reshaping of the labor market,” she says.

She adds that what stood out most to her was the discovery that nearly 68% of Gen Z feels they lack the resources for learning the digital skills needed to thrive in today’s work environment.

“Companies need employees with the ability to automate processes, engage customers online, build e-commerce platforms, use AI, develop chatbots that provide efficient service and leverage technology to get workers back to the office safely,” she says. “They need digitally savvy employees trained in digital-first skills to help.”

Enterprise Must Prioritize, Invest in Workforce Training

To help Gen Z gain the right skill sets for these in-demand roles, Lande says employers need to prioritize and invest in workforce training and make it open and accessible to anyone.

“Gone are the days of hours-long, in-person training seminars,” she says. “Learning and skilling is no longer a one-time event or moment in time -- it’s lifelong and it’s continuous to keep up with the pace of innovation.”

From her perspective, companies should look to offer engaging programs that deliver bite-size, personalized learning opportunities on demand. In doing so, learners can continuously upskill and reskill throughout their careers.

She adds the tech industry has created a host of new jobs that higher education institutions don't have specific curriculum around.

With an increasing digital skills gap and a growing number of Gen Z feeling unprepared for the future of work, businesses should look to engage with education partners to prepare students for the jobs they need.

Josh Drew, regional manager for IT recruiter Robert Half, adds Gen-Z’s familiarity with online education and virtual learning -- given a sharp shove by the conditions surrounding the pandemic -- could also prove beneficial in the workplace.

“The tools and technologies used in the classroom are light years ahead of what we're seeing just a decade ago,” he says. “These students are learning and engaging through virtual environments, not physically in the room with each other or their professors. It’s is a good representation of the reality of the workforce now.”

Defining a Common Rubrik for Needed Skills

Seth Robinson, CompTIA’s senior director of technology analysis, says the hard work is in defining a lot of these skills and understanding which skills are the most important for certain job roles.

“Once you define the skill, a lot of organizations might do something internally with training their own workforce,” he says. “The problem we're talking about is very widespread, and we need a common language that would stretch across lots of different organizations.”

An added challenge is many companies are feeling skill gaps much more acutely than they've felt them in the past, and they must figure out how to address it.

“Companies are recognizing the overall technical supply and demand equation is a little bit out of balance,” Robinson says. “They're seeing they must get serious about being able to quantify the skills they have, define the gaps, and put together a plan for how they're going to close those gaps, either through hiring new headcount or training existing headcount.”

Robinson explains CompTIA is working with organizations to try and develop a common taxonomy which goes beyond simple umbrella categories such as “artificial intelligence” or “data analytics” and drills down into the skills required to power those technologies.

“We've provided certifications for a long time around digital skills and now we are adding training trying to expand our portfolio of the digital skills we're talking about, and which kinds of offerings we could have for individuals or companies to take part in,” he says.

Gen Z More Willing to Learn than Previous Generations

While only one-third of Gen Z feels equipped with the digital skills needed to thrive in the future of work, the study also indicated they are hungry to learn, with the greatest ambition to develop new skills of any generation.

Salesforce’s research shows that one-third of incoming Gen Z workers, with or without a degree, are “very actively” participating in learning and training to gain critical digital skills.

Lande says this provides employers with a potentially untapped pool of talent, willing to forge new career paths untouched by other generations.

She notes historically, it’s been difficult to secure a corporate job without a four-year college degree, but the current job market has proven that this is no longer a necessity to land a high-paying tech job.

She pointed to Salesforce employee Zac Otero, who did not graduate high school or attend college and was working at a meat processing plant when he discovered the factory was being shut down.

Through Trailhead, a learning platform for the Salesforce platform, he learned the skills to land his first full-time Salesforce Admin position.

“Those with a drive to learn new skills can succeed in this digital-first world regardless of formal education background,” Lande says.

Drew says he’s seen organizations -- public and private -- sponsor and promote certain initiatives within higher education spaces to help steer students toward a particular sector the company ultimately specializes in, a tactic used often in the IT security industry.

“Look at DARPA -- they’re essentially going around and funding some of the brightest minds throughout college,” he says. “It's probably a military application, but the students aren't looking at it that way.”

Drew points out that recent graduates and those just entering the workforce need to be proactive in asking potential employers what their plan is for upskilling and training once they’re in the company.

“If it's an entry level position, and they’re looking for some things the applicant doesn’t have exposure to, it’s a fair question to ask what the plan is for getting them up to speed,” he says. “My own personal take is that they're probably more prepared than they realize.”

A Silver Lining in Gen-Z’s Familiarity with Tech

Robinson says he believes Gen Z is starting from a solid foundation based in their everyday interactions with technology.

“They understand the way systems work, and I think that knowledge allows them to begin understanding how enterprise systems work,” he says. “I think that the willingness to learn is a really key part of this.”

He says Gen Z understands -- to a far more advanced degree than previous generations -- that they need portable skills to succeed in today’s economy.

“They will naturally adopt this notion of being able to build a portfolio of skills that could be applied to a number of different situations, as opposed to sticking with a job at one place and building up your expertise that way,” he says.

These are among the sensibilities that Robinson says are in Gen-Z’s favor moving forward, although he admits there’s a long road ahead.

“Honestly, I don't know that we'll have this solved by the time the next generation is entering the workforce,” he says. “But hopefully we'll have made some decent progress.”

What to Read Next:

InformationWeek Salary Survey: What IT Pros Earn

IT Hiring: How to Appeal to GenZ Talent

Developing Leadership Skills for the Virtual Workplace

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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