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Why Does Gen Z Feel Technologically Underprepared for Work?

Adam Garry, senior director of education strategy at Dell, says in a Q&A that schools could better prepare students by developing an ideal portrait of a graduate and moving to portfolio assessments instead of tests.

student tablet,Elementary,School,Kids,Using,Tablet,Computers,In,Class
(TNS) — According to a recent study by Dell, 37 percent of Gen Z said their education did not adequately prepare them with technology skills they would need for their job. Meanwhile, 44 percent said they only learned very basic computing skills. These results are particularly surprising given that Gen Z is the first generation to grow up fully immersed in computers and phones.

Fast Company spoke with Adam Garry, Dell’s senior director of education strategy. Garry leads a team of Dell educators who partner with schools and universities to develop strategies for teaching technology skills in the classroom. He’s also published two books. We asked him why so many members of Gen Z—the digital-native generation—feel technologically underprepared for the workforce, and what some possible solutions could be.

Fast Company: Why are we seeing this tech-education gap with Gen Z?

Adam Garry: If you think about it, there are two gaps. The first gap is with our schools. They are still very much designed the same way they were in the 1950s. There are bells signaling when classes are over. Classes are compartmentalized by subject instead of building on each other. It wasn’t until COVID that each child had a device. One silver lining of the pandemic is we went from 55 percent of children having access to a computer to 98 percent.

Schools are now grappling with how to shift from an assessment model to a performance-based system, as well as how to teach digital literacy.

FC: What’s digital literacy?

AG: It’s being a savvy consumer of online material. First, being able to navigate the web and find the information you need, and using tools to collaborate and communicate. Second, it’s also about how to understand and assess the information you find online: How reliable is it? What biases are there? This shouldn’t just be the media specialist’s job. It should be the job of every teacher because they are using tech in the classroom. But few people are teaching this.

FC: You mentioned there were two gaps: schools and what else?

AG: The second gap is employers. If you think about it, employers are behind, too. We focus on providing cool furniture and office spaces, but we aren’t as creative about how to use technology as we could be. Few of us are creating video-based social media tools, even though 86 percent of the web is video. Workspaces have been created by older generations, while Gen Z is on their phones using TikTok and Instagram.

Schools are trying to shift and build career academies, so kids can pick up the skills they need and get certified in topics like digital security, but it’ll take a few years for those to come up.

FC: What kinds of solutions have you worked on?

AG: We’re trying to help schools redefine professional learning so it’s not four times a year, but four times a day. We’re visiting classrooms to make sure educators have what they need, but it’s going to take some time to bridge the gap. Our team is unique because we have all taught in classrooms and worked for a business—usually you get one or the other, and this leads to gaps because people in business contexts don’t understand the challenges teachers are facing, and teachers don’t understand what employees need to function in an office setting.

FC: What’s been effective?

AG: Recently, states have created a portrait of a graduate that looks at defining the skills and traits a student needs to succeed in a career and life, and moves to portfolio assessments instead of tests, allowing kids to demonstrate more of their skills. During COVID, companies did a lot around digital inclusion—how do you provide access to technology, as well as skill training and credentialing? There’s definitely a lot of momentum.

FC: Anything else you’d like to add?

AG: Gen Z has done a good job of advocating for themselves. I do see the systems starting to change a bit. High schools are asking: How are we meeting the needs of kids since not everyone is going to college? How do we prepare them for work? Universities are realizing it’s not always about a four-year degree—sometimes people want to come in and get some skills, and come out. I’m hopeful that we’re going to have many more new structures and options for people to learn.

Fast Company © 2023 Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.