Sorry, Gen Z isn't going to solve your tech skills crisis

Young people feel they lack the necessary skills to land a job in tech - largely because employers and educators are falling short.

Think Gen Z will solve the tech skills shortage? Don't count on it

Employers and educators need to do more to improve young people's confidence in technology careers and their own digital abilities, say the authors of a new report.

A survey of 500 IT decision makers and 542 16 to 24-year-olds by CWJobs found that young people feel they lack the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue a career in tech, despite the fact many see it as a promising career path.

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The report, The Digital Generation: Tapping into future tech talentfound that young people also undervalue their role in closing the widening tech skills gap and view the industry as inaccessible, either because they view it as too complicated or because they feel limited by other factors such as their age or gender.

SEE: Tech skills: Four ways you can get the right mix

While 72% of IT leaders think Gen Z will solve the digital skills shortage, only 24% of young people saw their age as an advantage when applying for tech roles. More than half (56%) said a career in technology seemed complicated, with 55% of young people saying they wanted more advice from schools and other educators on what a tech career entailed.

The problem for many is the belief that a career in technology requires deep technical knowledge or extensive experience. "It seems the younger generation has been led to believe that technical prowess is the most important attribute businesses are looking for, which is not the case for many organizations," Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs, told ZDNet.

The report also suggested that businesses were falling short when it came to supporting young people's ambitions.

More than half (51%) of businesses surveyed said they didn't have the resources to offer Gen Z employees tech training, whilst a third (32%) of tech leaders claimed they wouldn't know how to train them up even if the resources were available.

Following through with tech training

CWJob's Tackling Tech Training Report previously found that 72% of UK businesses had increased their investment in tech tools, talent and training in 2020, yet only 9% had trained staff in the necessary tech tools for their business.

Harvey said it was not enough to simply "throw money at training and expect the investment to pay off."

"Employers must ensure their spending is effective by finding creative and engaging ways to train up existing employees. To do this, businesses must invest in bespoke training and apprenticeship programmes that suit the needs of staff and the needs of the business – these could involve lunchtime drop-in sessions, intensive bootcamps or online modules."

SEE: Need developers? Solving the tech skills shortage means looking beyond hiring

CWJob's report found that 69% of businesses had apprenticeship schemes in place, and yet 37% agreed that this required improvement. Apprenticeships were found to be the preferred route into tech among young people, with 41% of respondents intending to start a career in the industry through a tech-focused apprenticeship.

Training programmes should be continuously measured and updated to keep in step with new developments in technology, said Harvey, who argued that the increasing demand for candidates called for a new approach to bringing young workers into the tech workforce – including those who are not already technically adept.

"The sheer speed of change and dearth of candidates mean that there may be increasing value in recruiting for potential rather than qualification when looking at digitally native Gen Z candidates," he said.

"It is a brave strategy, but if executed well, bringing in naturally adept employees young enough to learn and evolve may well provide greater benefits in the medium to long term."

The hard sell

Employers and educators have traditionally struggled to sell Gen Z on the prospects of a career in the tech industry.

A survey of 1,000 16-24-year-olds by Accenture earlier this year found that only a quarter of young people feel confident about securing a job in the tech industry, despite the fact they possess strong digital skills. Meanwhile, data published by the Learning and Work Institute and WorldSkills UK in March suggests that the number of students taking IT subjects at GCSE has fallen by 40% since 2015.

Meanwhile, organizations – and the technology industry more widely – need young people more than ever. CWJob's research found that 77% of IT managers saw these 'digital natives' as having the best ability of any generation to plug the tech skills shortage, identifying cloud (28%), artificial intelligence (27%) and coding (26%) as areas in particular need of new digital talent.

"Ultimately, this comes down to a lack of communication – businesses must show that they're also looking for hard-working individuals that are willing to learn, not necessarily just those with a technical background," said Harvey.

"It is about showing young people the value and soft skills they can bring to these roles and encouraging the next generation to believe in themselves."

SEE: Developers, DevOps and cybersecurity: The top tech talent employers are looking for

It's also about reflecting the values of younger generations within the organization's mission statement. More than two-thirds (69%) of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said it was important that carbon net-zero ambitions were part of a company's values, and agreed mission statements for racial diversity (65%), gender diversity (63%), neurodiversity (62%) and LGBTQ+ representation (60%) were also important.

The findings also suggested that employers should pay attention to Gen Z's pastoral needs, with flexible working options and mental health support also topping young people's priorities.

Samantha Edmondson, head of talent at quantum computing startup, Universal Quantum, said: "The digital skills shortage is a major issue for the industry – especially in specialised areas like quantum computing. However, Gen Z want to make a difference more than any generation that came before them and can bring a great deal of enthusiasm and flair for technology to the workforce."

The dual challenge for businesses when turning to Gen Z, said Edmondson, is identifying the right talent while also ensuring they offer an attractive proposition. "It's also important to offer the best package possible with training an essential part of it and pastoral support, whether it's through coaching, flexible working or team socials – all things necessary for a healthy and happy workforce that's set to change the world."