On some level we’ve heard or experienced the idea that our youngest generations are especially good at using digital technologies. In our personal lives it might come from watching young people intuitively use new apps such as TikTok or BeReal with no guidance, or be able to navigate a smart TV menu to access their favourite show. Scholars call this concept digital natives – that is, young people who have grown up fully immersed in the post-internet, post-social media world.
There have been countless thinkpieces and opinion pieces extolling the virtues and possibilities of the digital native generation. They are often touted as being able to easily enter into professional roles which demand digital fluency and proficiency, putting their older co-workers to shame. However, this misses several key insights, which demonstrate that significant effort is required for us to meet the skill demands Australia needs to stay competitive in the digital age.
Firstly, it’s important to note the distinction between digital literacy, digital fluency and digital proficiency.
Digital literacy refers to the ability to use digital technologies to complete simple tasks such as sending an email, using a web browser or writing in a word processing program. Many of these skills may have been intuitively picked up by Gen Z in a recreational context.
However, many businesses with work-forces that span several generations may use technologies that have been superseded by more modern technologies outside of work hours. While a Gen-Z worker may intuitively understand an instant messaging-based platform such as Slack or Teams, e-mails, with their anachronistic references to carbon copies, could prove to be a greater challenge.
The key objective of the emerging Gen Z workforce is to build towards digital fluency. Digital fluency is the ability to use a foundational understanding of how digital technologies work and interact to move effectively between platforms and tasks.
Secondly, the way in which skills can be recognised in a professional context doesn’t correspond to the organic acquisition of skills by young people. This is a problem with two key components.
The first is that companies typically look for people with high-level qualifications from institutions when selecting candidates. This process has a tendency to exclude people who have self-taught skills, and creates barriers to establishing a diverse workforce. However, this requirement is beginning to shift, with large tech corporations such as Atlassian offering cadetships for junior positions without requiring a certification or degree.
The second element is that the duration of tertiary qualifications makes entering the tech workforce a high-investment choice. According to NCVER data , only 7,000 students in Australia graduated with an IT degree in 2019, and fewer than 3,000 people completed a Cert IV in the ICT training package that same year. This is why one of the Digital Skills Organisation’s key aims is to establish a Digital Skill Development Model. The model seeks to standardise digital skills qualifications across the tertiary, vocational and private education sectors to increase the transparency of young people’s skills in key areas.
While these initiatives are a step in the right direction, there is great urgency of the challenge ahead. To meet the demands of our increasingly digitised economy, Australia is to need an additional 60,000 digital workers per year, over the next five years. That is why Year13 has collaborated with the Digital Skills Organisation to create DigiSkills.
Digiskills is a free short course aimed at Gen Z school leavers to illustrate the advantages of acquiring digital skills in the future job market in an approachable, interactive format. For more information, please visit the Digiskills website, or view the Digital Skills Organisation’s discussion paper ‘Towards a new model for the development of digital skills’.