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'Generation Facebook' finds skills wasted at work

Although the majority of young people going into the workplace for the first time are confident in their IT skills, businesses are not making the most of their Web 2.0 savvy
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

The tech savvy of "Generation Facebook" is going down the drain at work, new research has found.

People who have left education in the past three years have strong confidence in their IT skills but the organisations they work for are not always making the most of this skill-set, according to database software company FileMaker, which commissioned the research.

The vast majority (82 percent) of 16- to 18-year-olds surveyed felt confident about their level of general IT skills going into the workplace: a higher percentage than those who felt confident about their interpersonal skills (64 percent).

Tony Speakman, regional manager northern Europe at FileMaker, told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site silicon.com: "The generation of people coming into the workplace now have had technology round them all of their lives, so whether it's Facebook, or whether it's MSN, or whatever it might be, it's second nature to them."

Speakman added: "[To a parent it may seem as though] they seem to waste so much time on these social-networking sites but actually what this means when they're put in front of technology in a business sense they're in no way intimidated by it."

According to the research, the majority (85 percent) of school leavers and university graduates learnt to use PowerPoint software while in education but only slightly more than a third (39 percent) reported using it at work. A further 88 percent learnt to use spreadsheet software but only 65 percent said they use it as part of their job.

In addition, just over half (51 percent) said they had actively looked for creative ways to use technology at work.

Speakman said the "much more positive attitude to IT" of these education leavers is good news for business, adding they are "not there to kill things [IT systems]".

But he warned businesses are failing to make the most of this innate love of tech. "We've all got email and we've all got access to the internet and so we probably tend to think we're completely up to date. But what we've tended to do in many businesses is we've automated a paper process rather than necessarily look at the capability of the technology that you have and ask if there are even more efficient ways to use it," he said.

Businesses should consider doing a skills audit of new recruits and updating job responsibilities to ensure roles are aligned with skills.

Speakman said: "If you audit the technology that you've already invested in, audit the people that you've got and the skills that they have then you could really start to drive some additional productivity improvements — and that goes straight to the bottom line of any business."

However, the research also found there is reluctance among businesses to invest in training for graduates and school leavers: just 12 percent of respondents said they had received any formal training at work, while 49 percent said they had had to make do with on-the-job or unstructured training.

Speakman said: "We have a culture that does not invest in training. And it is a cost-related thing in my opinion but that is probably a false economy."

He added: "Companies that are using technology to make themselves efficient, to make themselves responsive, to cut costs and control costs will ultimately be the more successful organisations, so technology will be a significant driver. So what we're saying is let's make sure we're using the skills of the people we're employing."

Businesses have a responsibility to drive IT skills forward as "education very much looks to business" when it comes to setting the curriculum, he said. "If we as businesses up the ante then education will follow," he added.

The research polled 1,000 people who left education in the past three years.

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