Feb 12, 2024 - Technology

"AI native" Gen Zers are comfortable on the cutting edge

an illustration of a collage made up of yellow stickers, marker scribbles, colorful construction paper, a photo of a keyboard, and plastic letter beads with 1s and 0s

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

When it comes to generative AI at school and work, Gen Z says: Bring it on.

Why it matters: While some workers are fearful or ambivalent about how ChatGPT, DALL-E and their ilk will affect their jobs, many college students and newly minted grads think it can give them a career edge.

  • So-called "AI natives" who are studying the technology in school may have a leg up on older "digital natives" — the same way that "digital native" millennials smugly bested their "digital immigrant" elders.

Driving the news: College students are piling into generative AI (GAI) courses — the better to give them an advantage in the growing number of jobs requiring such skills.

  • A third of this year's seniors — and more than half of tech majors — say they plan to use GAI in their careers, per a class of 2024 trends report from Handshake, a job-search platform for college students.
  • Members of Gen Z —"Zoomers" — are more likely to want to learn AI skills than Boomers (1.6x) or Gen X (1.1x), according to LinkedIn research provided to Axios.

What they're saying: "We're not seeing a nervousness" among Gen Zers, says Valerie Capers Workman, chief legal officer at Handshake. "They see it as an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of a transformational technology."

  • "They are actually digging in on AI," says Workman, the author of a book on career advancement in the age of AI. "The most important headline is, they are hyper-aware that it is mission-critical for them, to be able to have the best opportunities in the employment space."
  • Indeed, Gen Z is already "hyper-familiar" with GAI, Workman adds. "They are using it already in terms of helping with their applications, helping with their resumes."

Yes, but: Generative AI is starting to cause major job disruptions.

  • A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that it's "accelerating automation and extending it to an entirely new set of occupations."
  • Gen Z isn't immune from such tumult. But as the first generation entering the workplace to study the discipline in school, they may be better-positioned than their elders.

Where it stands: Most U.S. adults say AI's risks outweigh its benefits, per a Mitre-Harris Poll — though younger adults are less likely to be anxious about it.

  • As Axios reported, 57% of Gen Z respondents and 62% of millennials said they were more excited about the potential benefits of AI than they were worried about the risks.
  • LinkedIn and Handshake surveys suggest that today's college students and recent grads believe GAI is here to stay — and they're confident enough to take on student debt to pursue it academically.

By the numbers: Globally, 48% of Gen Zers and 52% of millennials "believe that AI will help move their career forward by providing faster access to knowledge and insights which will help them be more confident at work," LinkedIn tells Axios.

  • "The vast majority of 2024 graduates are familiar with tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, and 50% plan to build new skills in light of the emergence of generative AI," Handshake tells Axios.
  • LinkedIn has seen a 75% average increase each month in members worldwide adding terms like "GAI," "ChatGPT," "Prompt Engineering" and "Prompt Crafting" to their profiles in 2023, according to the company's latest AI report.

The bottom line: Everyone is trying to figure out GAI and its impact on the job market — but Gen Z may have a leg up.

  • "This cohort is very aware that AI tools are critical to their job profiles and them being able to get the type of employment that they're interested in," Workman says.
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