Technology   //   December 14, 2022

Gen Z workers are not tech-savvy in the workplace – and it’s a growing problem

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It turns out Gen Zers have a common secret. They’re not as comfortable with new technology as older generations would typically presume.

Sure, they may have grown up with instant access to information and an affinity for digital devices that older generations had to learn. But that has led to a widespread presumption that Gen Zers are therefore innately good with tech. Now, new research is showing that may not be the case at all when it comes to workplace tech. In fact, this presumption from older generations is leading a larger number of young professionals to experience “tech shame,” according to HP’s “Hybrid Work: Are We There Yet?” report, published in late November.

One in 5 of the 18-to-29-year-olds polled in the report, which surveyed 10,000 office workers in 10 markets including the U.S. and U.K., said they felt judged when experiencing technical issues, compared to only one in 25 for those aged 40 years and over. Further, 25% of the former age group would actively avoid participating in a meeting if they thought their tech tools might cause disruption, whereas it was just 6% for the latter cohort.

“We were surprised to find out that young workers are feeling more ‘tech shame’ than their older colleagues, and this could be due to a number of issues,” said Debbie Irish, head of human resources in the U.K. and Ireland at HP. First, in a hybrid work scenario, more seasoned colleagues would likely have higher disposable incomes with which to buy better equipment for their homes, she suggested. 

Additionally, those who had started their careers during or since the pandemic were probably low on confidence at work. “Some young professionals are entering the workforce for the first time in fully virtual settings,” said Irish. “They have less face-to-face time in the office than any other generation and have limited access to senior employees, mentors and even their bosses.”

‘Adequate training is needed’

Irish urged organizations to ramp up their technical training programs for their youngest workers. “While young professionals may be more accustomed to digital environments, and certainly social media platforms, this doesn’t always carry over to professional tools,” she said. 

Before entering the workforce, young workers might not have experienced virtual meeting platforms or communication channels, such as Slack. “Adequate training is needed for our early talent so they can learn how to utilize collaboration tools effectively,” added Irish.

Ludmila Milla, co-founder and CEO of e-learning provider UJJI, agreed. “The assumption is that because Gen Z and even millennials spend a considerable amount of time on technology that they are technology savvy,” she said. “This is a huge misconception. Sadly, neither watching TikTok videos nor playing Minecraft fulfills the technology brief.”

And when it comes to asking for help, younger generations are perhaps more shy. “As a behavioral scientist, I would expect older employees to hold up their hands and say they don’t know,” added Milla. “But it is much harder for younger employees, as there is a perception — albeit often incorrect — that they are naturally tech adept.”

"They have less face-to-face time in the office than any other generation and have limited access to senior employees, mentors and even their bosses."
Debbie Irish, head of HR in the U.K. and Ireland at HP.

Related to this insight, Salesforce’s “Future of Work Survey,” released in late November, indicated that U.K. workers rank digital skills as the most crucial for the current and future workplace — but 27% do not feel confident in their digital capabilities. A third complained about a lack of training in this area.

More worrying, so-called “future workers” – 13-to-18-year-old school children — lacked awareness of the importance of digital skills, according to the research. Those surveyed in this group rated these skills as the seventh-most vital capability required for the 2030 workplace.

Failing the next generation

“The U.K. is facing a digital skills crisis, compromising its status as one of the world’s most important science and technology hubs,” said Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce’s U.K. and Ireland CEO. “We are failing the next generation and must educate parents and children on the importance of digital skills.”

Bahrololoumi said that the public and private sectors must join forces “to democratize access” to all learning and development opportunities. Salesforce is trying to do its part. “For example, 40 million badges have been acquired via Trailhead, our online learning platform, and it opens up access to tech skills to people of all backgrounds and education levels for free,” Bahrololoumi added.

While Trailhead, launched in 2014, offers courses focused on Salesforce technologies, the concept of completing hands-on challenges and earning points and badges to learn should be embraced by others, UJJI’s Milla said.

“Learning and development programs need to recognize that younger employees use technology for pleasure,” she added. “This is one of the main reasons we think gamification is a critical [learning and development] facilitator.”