Sep 10 2020

What Will the Workforce Look Like for Gen Z?

Today’s students are interested in pursuing careers in emerging tech, an IBM and Morning Consult survey found. But they need more training and support to gain the necessary skills.

The future of work is rapidly evolving. The adoption of new technologies, along with COVID-19’s impact on the global economy and workforce, has created greater demand for jobs that require select technical, industrial and business skills.

A recent World Economic Forum report found that more than 42 percent of all jobs will change significantly by 2022, placing greater emphasis on skills such as analytics, design thinking and complex problem-solving. Data and AI, engineering, cloud computing and product development were among the top industries that will see continued growth in the next few years.

But today’s students may not be ready for these up-and-coming careers, according to a recent survey conducted by IBM and Morning Consult.

The survey asked 300 U.S. secondary school students age 14 to 18 about their interest in and knowledge of emerging technology skills and fields. Despite over half of the students reporting interest, at least 80 percent have received little to no training in key areas such as cybersecurity, cloud technology or artificial intelligence.

Gen Z Students Report Interest in Emerging Tech

The survey found that 42 percent of students were interested in pursuing a technology career. More than half said it was because most jobs will require the use of technology. Others cited their personal interest (50 percent) and the fact that tech jobs pay well (46 percent).

Students were particularly interested in learning more about AI (50 percent), followed by cybersecurity (47 percent) and cloud technology (42 percent). Yet less than a third felt equipped to use these technologies in their life or career, according to the report.

Meanwhile, students who said they weren’t interested in emerging tech cited numerous reasons why: 42 percent said it was because they didn’t find any of the areas exciting or engaging, while others noted it was because they didn’t understand them (24 percent) or have time to learn more (16 percent).

How to Teach Gen Z Emerging Tech Skills

To prepare Gen Z for the future of work, schools need to recognize and support student interest in emerging technology, says Grace Suh, vice president of IBM Education.

“We know that almost all jobs will change in the future due to AI and automation. Students will need a variety of 21st century skills to succeed,” she says. “Looking at the changes in education and work, offering specific types of learning experiences for all students is most beneficial.”

DISCOVER: Learn how high schools prep students to fill the cybersecurity skills gap.

Suh explains that these learning opportunities should not only teach students technical skills, but also focus on soft skills — from critical thinking to communication — that remain evergreen.

“If we provide ways for students to more actively learn and explore the world, then no matter what they ultimately decide to do, they will have the skills, real-world awareness and flexibility that will have them well equipped for a constantly changing system,” Suh says.

Many school districts are already involved in a range of initiatives to ensure all students are college and career ready, Suh says. Career and technical education programs, in particular, are effective in teaching students necessary skills related to in-demand career pathways.

READ MORE: Learn how immersive tech can expand CTE options for students with disabilities.

“Exposing young people to strategic, door-opening, early college courses in a particular field can set them on their way to their first professional credential with value in the labor market, without limiting their future educational or career aspirations,” Kyle Hartung, associate vice president of Jobs for the Future, shares with EdTech.

Source: IBM and Morning Consult, "AI in the Classroom Study — United States Results," August 2020

For example, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) programs inspire students to become innovators of tomorrow while teaching them how to navigate education and workforce development challenges. At St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, P-TECH students learn from industry experts and use advanced technology to complete ingenious projects, from building AI-driven chatbots with IBM’s Watson to developing apps with SWIFT codes, writes Superintendent Don Haddad.

And students aren’t limited to learning and practicing these skills in a school building. Today, there are plenty of online platforms that give students the freedom to learn at their leisure, which comes with additional benefits.

Jai’Marri Moulden, a recent P-TECH graduate from Baltimore’s Carver Vocational-Technical High School, used Open P-TECH, IBM’s latest digital education platform, to extend his knowledge of cybersecurity. He tells EdTech that completing Open P-TECH’s online modules made the transition to virtual learning during the pandemic easier for him and taught him better management skills for college.

Earning professional certifications, such as Google for Education’s G Suite Certification and Adobe’s Certified Associate, can also help students break into the tech field. Students can explore their technology interests early on while preparing for a 21st century workplace.

But Suh says school districts can’t do the hard work of providing students with these opportunities alone. “For students to feel more prepared, we need to make the education career pipeline more direct,” she says. “Education and industries need to work in close collaboration, with industries helping to cultivate skills that meet their needs and mentoring future leaders and innovators.”

FG Trade/Getty Images