Artificial Intelligence

Gen Z People Are Already Tech Experts—But Still Fear Automation

The graduates you hire this year won’t disrupt the workforce, they’ll quietly “elevate it” – and while they don’t see AI and automation as a no-no, they definitely will want an opportunity to work with AI and automation, rather than have it loom as a threat.

And when it comes to deciding between using two apps — the app their company tells them to use and the one they know will most effectively handle the task — the overwhelming majority (79%) will go with the latter, as they are hardwired for app efficiency. In their daily lives, if one app doesn’t measure up, there are many others to take its place. 

Finally, when they’re faced with a tech-related problem at work — say, trouble with an app or a computer crash — fewer than half (48%) submit a formal IT request. Instead, most either attempt to solve the problem themselves by Googling or by trial and error, or they ask a colleague for help.

Those are just some of the things it seems the HR leader needs to brace themselves for when it comes to the next cohort of employees about to enter it – so-called ‘Gen(eration) Z’. And if even half of these ideas come to fruition, they’ll have a big effect on the way automation and digital technology will end up being received in the world of work.

For one thing, they already know their stuff: collaboration tools like Google Docs, GroupMe and Facebook Messenger are top choices for completing class assignments, with 94% saying they either used or currently use these tools frequently to complete class assignments, and 59% used them “extremely frequently”.

And what will be particularly interesting to HR automation fans: the majority, 57%, of Gen Z in the US are concerned that AI and automation will cost them their jobs, but that figure drops to just 30% in the UK and 43% in New Zealand and Australia. Indeed, the overall conclusion is that they’re afraid AI and automation may cost them their jobs—a fear that may be holding them back from fully embracing these technologies.

Defined as the generation born between 1996-2010, so after Millennials, Gen Z is supposed to be the one raised on the Internet and social media, with some of its senior members finishing Uni and so set to be applying for their first jobs even as we speak.

Though they’re unlikely to shape too much of the workplace technology debate for a while, they are still going to be a significant factor in not just HR, but also line of business and IT people’s lives, from now on. Hence this full-scale study by a company called Nintex, a specialist in process automation, The Gen Z Effect on the U.S. Workplace: Understanding your newest employees’ view on work, corporate culture, automation and you.

The company said it felt answers to a number of questions would be of interest to employers, especially in the US, which is the focus of this exercise:

  • What does Gen Z look for in an employer?
  • What keeps them around, and what sends them packing?
  • As the first true digital natives, what are Gen Z’s feelings toward AI and automation- driven solutions?
  • What does Gen Z need from their employers to do their best work?

And it says to address these questions and understand what Gen Z means for today’s workplaces, it conducted two surveys: first, a survey of both current and soon-to-be U.S.-based Gen Z employees, which it sectioned out as 1000 18-23 year olds who use a computer for over 5 hours a week in their current studies or work, and second, a survey of 500 American business decision makers in mid-size (250-plus) enterprises. The second part of the study included interviews with C-suite leaders, and despite the name of the report, it’s actually very international in scope, with both employers and employees contacted in not just the US but also Australia, New Zealand, and here.

What it says it found: we’re already relying on them to be the office’s resident tech expert, with 70% saying they’d already been approached by a senior team member to fix a technology problem. That also means they are highly influential when it comes to tech selection: a massive 80% of employers said they only selected a technology tool after it was suggested by a Gen Z staffer. 

Different work attitudes than their big brothers and sisters

When it comes to workplace expectations, half expect a promotion within their first year on the job, which is something that you might have to have a strategy for, and are not planning to accept the first job offer they receive, as they want to actively consider their opportunities for growth and the impact that they will have. Also, 31% of Gen Z in the UK and US, and 29 in New Zealand and Australia, plan to leave that first job after just one year!

US respondents rank “salary and company culture” as the biggest factor in making a job decision, while their British equivalents value “work flexibility ahead of salary and work-life balance.” In New Zealand and Australia, “salary and company values” top the list.

To that point—after salary, Gen Z ranked company culture, values, and reputation as the most important factors in selecting their first job. By contrast, Gen Z ranked factors that could be classed as “individual enrichment-focused”, such as work flexibility, potential for new learning, and work-life balance, lower than their Millennial predecessors tended to.

Commenting on the results, for Nintex CEO Eric Johnson, “Gen Z grew up with technology in hand, and as they begin their careers, they aspire to do meaningful work.

“It’s becoming increasingly important for organisations to leverage technologies that help all employees to perform at their best. 

“Business and HR leaders and front-line managers need to keep this generation’s career advancement goals in mind if they want to retain Gen Z workers long-term.”

thedmcollaborators editors

You can check out the full report by downloading it free (after some data capture) here

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