Upskilling is the (not so secret) pathway for Gen Z to break into the tech industry, alongside or even instead of traditional education, argues Aaron Skonnard.
Gen Z already accounts for a large portion of the UK’s entry-level workforce, and data shows people under 25 will make up over a quarter (27pc) of the entry-level workforce by 2025. As such, investing in this young, tech-native generation is vital for organisations so their workforce is equipped with the skills needed to embrace the latest technologies like generative AI.
But while Gen Z is known as the ‘tech-savvy’ generation who grew up with technology, they are not as tech-literate as we would expect. This is in part due to an existing gap between the skills developed in education and the skills actually needed to succeed in the tech industry.
In actuality, young people themselves believe they are not ready to go and work in a digital-first world. Only a third of Gen Z adults have enough resources to build the digital skills they need to thrive in the tech industry, and half agree their education has not adequately prepared them to enter the labour market.
‘Look at the skills needed for your dream position and work backwards to find your way’
As graduates continue to enter the workforce, organisations have a big opportunity to boost their talent pipeline and drive innovation. However, businesses must close the skills gaps to remain competitive. Providing Gen Z with tools like online learning, coding boot camps and certification paths can be hugely beneficial in bridging the gap between traditional education and the workplace.
Instil an ‘always learning’ mindset
Many companies tend to rely on young graduates to help fuel their talent pipelines, with 72pc of IT leaders saying the next generation will help close the tech skills gap. This is why companies recruit young talent – they are looking to build the tech-literate and digitally fluent workforce they desperately need. And although the pandemic forced schools and universities to embrace technology and adopt more innovative approaches to teaching, tech-focused curricula are still playing catch up to the rapid pace of innovation that is shaping the world today.
One important thing to keep in mind is that companies should instil a culture where people never stop learning. Online, self-paced learning is key for students at university, as well as for young graduates starting their professional lives. We’re seeing more universities collaborating with platforms that offer tech skills development courses to support traditional classroom learning. These partnerships give students the chance to upskill through personalised curricula designed by experts and covering a wide range of technology topics that are most relevant to the current job market.
Students don’t need to sit in a classroom to take these courses – they can access upskilling resources independently, outside of formal programmes. Whether they seek to deepen their knowledge in a specific area, or learn a totally new topic to expand their skillset, access to tech upskilling resources gives them this opportunity.
Prioritise boot camps and apprenticeships
Often when businesses are recruiting new talent, they are looking for individuals with experience. But fresh out of education, graduates won’t have the proven experience to make them stand out – even when applying to entry-level positions. For 54pc of Gen Z, it takes up to 9 months to secure their first entry-level role in tech.
This predicament is particularly relevant in the tech industry because possessing the right skills is a requirement. And this can be a frustrating cycle – graduates need hands-on experience to develop in-demand skills, but they must demonstrate proficiency in tech skills before they can secure their first job.
Coding boot camps provide graduates with a pathway into more lucrative careers that traditional education couldn’t have prepared them for. In fact, boot camp graduates earn 56pc more on average than the rest of the crowd in similar roles. Some employers even consider that graduating from a coding boot camp is as valuable on a CV as any degree.
Apprenticeships can also offer more hands-on and in-depth experience over a longer period of time and are almost always paid – benefits that should not be overlooked.
Certifications play an important role
Tech certifications, outside of traditional degrees, can also be a great way for Gen Z to showcase their skills. These certifications help younger workers demonstrate their dedication to building in-demand skillsets. In the most popular areas of technology – cybersecurity, cloud and data science – these certifications can be what makes the difference between two candidates with similar backgrounds, applying for similar positions.
Nowadays, there are many different certifications available on the market, so it can be hard for people to determine which will be most useful to them. To make the right decision, students should look at the skills needed for their dream position. They can then work backwards to see which pathway they’ll need to land their ideal job.
In today’s competitive tech landscape, a degree in computer science or information technology isn’t enough to secure a job. Graduates must go further to demonstrate mastery of the skills required for the position and dedication to continuous learning. Certifications show that students have not been passively waiting for a job, but have gone above and beyond to make themselves indispensable.
Today’s labour market is extremely competitive. Hiring freezes and economic uncertainty have impacted the number of entry-level tech jobs available, making it more difficult for young workers to secure their first role.
In a time when some organisations value skills even more than traditional degrees, Gen Z has the opportunity to explore different educational pathways that prepare them for the future of work. Society is much more flexible and meritocratic than it has been in a long while, so I hope everyone involved in hiring and working with graduates impresses upon them the importance of continuous upskilling and being open to growing as you learn.
Aaron Skonnard is the CEO and co-founder of Pluralsight, an online education and skills provider in the IT sector.
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