The rise of Gen Z and why older workers must level up their digital skills

For many of us who are of a certain age, it can be difficult to believe that someone born in the year 2000 is now old enough to form part of the adult working population.

Whether you’re willing to accept it or not, Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – now accounts for a significant portion of the UK’s workforce. In fact, figures published by Indeed show that Gen Zs made up approximately 20% of the total national workforce in 2020. With workers falling into this age bracket joining the jobs market all the time, it seems inevitable that the portion of the working population made up of Gen Zs will continue to grow ever further.

Gen Z: The missing link for businesses?

The arrival of Generation Z is significant for businesses. In today’s digital landscape, organisations are recognising the importance of harnessing technology to drive efficiencies and remain competitive. However, many companies have struggled to make their adoption of technology truly successful because they lack the digital skills and knowledge required to do so. Indeed, according to a recent report by the Learning & Work Institute, 23% of employers feel that their existing workforce lacks basic digital skills, while a further 37% are severely lacking advanced digital skills. The report also found that 92% of those surveyed agreed that digital skills are key to success, as well as driving growth, innovation, and productivity.

This is where Generation Z comes in. Gen Zs are commonly recognised as the first truly ‘digital native’ generation. They were born when the internet was available to everyone and don’t recall a time when it wasn’t normal to carry a smartphone wherever they go, or to document their lives via social media. Given the close relationship between Generation Z and technology, young workers are often viewed as being key to plugging the digital skills gap and helping organisations to achieve technological excellence. This is why so many businesses are scrabbling to secure the finest young digital talent on the jobs market and, in doing so, provide a solid foundation upon which to build towards their tech-driven future.

Older workers are at risk of becoming obsolete

While the rise of Gen Z may give business leaders cause for celebration, it is less positive for older workers.

Millennials [1981 – 1996], Generation Xers [1965-1980], and Baby Boomers [1946 – 1964] have been in the world of work for quite some time now. They bring a wealth of experience to the table and are often viewed as highly respected team members as a result. However, because older workers have been doing what they do for so long, they can have a tendency to get stuck in their ways, particularly if they are resistant to change. Although tech has grown to prominence in the business world, many seasoned workers have not kept their digital skills updated in line with the latest technological advancements. This is why many organisations have reported a severe digital skills gap within their existing teams.

With Gen Z workers representing an appealing opportunity to gain the digital skills needed to achieve success, it is no surprise that businesses are tripping over themselves to recruit them. As such, older workers who don’t possess the digital skills that their younger counterparts do risk being put out to pasture, because they simply cannot function properly in an increasingly digital working environment.

Established employees shouldn’t accept their fate

To avoid such an eventuality, it is imperative that action is taken now to level up the digital skills of older workers. It is regrettable that so few organisations are doing enough to support their staff in upskilling. After all, according to the Federation of Small Businesses [FSB], 25% of firms feel that time constraints are one of the main barriers to providing in-house training, with a further 21% reporting cost to be an obstacle too. However, businesses should be doing everything that they can to support established workers, rather than simply seeing younger recruits as the silver bullet solution to all the problems that they face. In fact, research suggests that the digital skills of Gen Zs aren’t actually as strong as many firms assume. Salesforce figures show that only 32% of this digital-native generation feeling equipped with the resources to learn the digital skills required to thrive in the current or future workforce. Therefore, whether they focus on hiring younger workers or upskilling their existing workforce, there is a high probability that businesses will need to invest in digital skills training regardless.

If their organisation is failing to invest in their training sufficiently, however, older workers cannot simply accept the situation for what it is, and must be proactive in looking for alternative ways to upskill. For example, there are many digital courses that people can enrol in, which will ensure that they are better equipped to take on their technologically focused responsibilities of their work. While this may be an added expense that workers have to take on themselves, they must recognise that levelling up their digital skills is every bit as vital for them as it is for the business that they work for.

While many companies and older employees might see the emergence of Gen Z workers as a seismic shift in the business landscape, it really doesn’t need to be. Older workers have so much to offer in the digitally driven business environment of the future, but they need to be given a fighting chance to work as effectively as possible alongside technology.

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