Twenty something Are Expected to Be Technically Savvy

Gen Yers — those born between 1980 and 2000 — came of age just as PCs were becoming fixtures in homes and the Internet was emerging as a vital information source and conduit for commerce. Because they’ve been exposed to these technologies from a young age, they’ve been termed “Digital Natives,” expected to be able to easily pick up and understand all manner of gadgets and devices. Before they set foot on a college campus, these young adults are already tagged as being proficient with a range of technologies.

The students come with familiarity and comfort, based on their social experiences . . . They are not intimidated by technology, as many folks in my own generation are. (Associate professor, supply management)

When they leave college, business leaders expect these young adults to behave like Digital Natives, ready to use the technology their company provides them with as soon as they set foot on the job.

You want people to be able to hit the ground running. With the recession, we have less time for training and development, so it’s more important to have them ready [on] day one. (Human resources business partner, clinical research)

Back in the day, having basic knowledge of [spreadsheet software] would suffice, but we’re now looking for a much higher level of tech savvy with those tools; someone who can do forecasting and is more of a master . . . In the past we wanted folks who we could groom and teach our ways, and now we are looking for people who bring in new ideas that we can use and institute across the company. (SVP, talent acquisition, financial services)

But are Gen Yers really being prepared at the university level to successfully market and use their technical proficiency in a business environment?

Preconceived Notions About Gen Yers Shape How Professors Teach and Use Technology

Although computer technologies are essential to the industries that students are entering, these tools aren’t the centerpiece of many professional programs like finance and business management. Professors within these degree paths start with an assumption: Their students already know the basics of using computer software when they reach their class.

When they start the program, they are very tech savvy. I don’t think you’ll find a student that’s not savvy in social technology, and they have a great ability to pick up on enterprise applications. (Professor, information technology)

This assumption, of course, shapes how technology is presented to students within these majors.

Universities look at technology as a draw for prospective students. Understanding that they are competing for students, some academics view providing the latest technology as essential to differentiating. These educators want high school graduates to perceive their institution as providing technology that will hold the students’ interest and expose them to what they will encounter in the workplace.

Those that are tech savvy are quite a bit above the curve . . . We have to be sure we are ready for those students, and keep up with their expectations. That includes smart boards on our end, and other newer tools. If a professor holds up chalk and says, “This is the only tech I need,” we run the risk of losing the students’ confidence in this age. (Dean, college of business)

Students spend little time on the basics of using computers in their majors. As a natural outcome of assuming that students are technically savvy, professors don’t spend time explaining the fundamentals of word processing, spreadsheets, email, and other basic computer software. While students who aren’t adept at using these tools are provided remedial courses to get them up to speed, it is taken as an article of faith that most students are ready to use basic productivity software from the outset.

Our business majors are required to demonstrate proficiency in [spreadsheet software] . . . [word processing], [and] database programs before they get to my course — before they become a business major. Most merely take some proficiency exams. Those not comfortable can take one unit classes on each. Most students have this proficiency when they get here. (Professor, accounting)

  • Professors use technology to illustrate what students will face in industry. The bulk of instruction provides students with an understanding of the principles and practices of the fields they hope to enter. To this end, technology is sprinkled in to provide students real-world context for the theory that the instructor is presenting.

We use [ERP software] as a vehicle to teach production management. It helps them understand the concepts, challenges, and relationships in the real world. (Associate professor, supply management)

 Technical Kno-How Among Gen Yers Is A Given For Business Leaders

More dependent than ever on technology to run their companies, business leaders view college graduates as being able to easily fit into their business environments and make valuable contributions immediately.

technically savvyWe need folks who are comfortable using tech, [have a] working knowledge of [spreadsheets software] . . . especially

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— they will be asked to prepare and give presentations right off Page 6 the bat, so they need those tech skills coming in. We also use [a collaboration platform] internally . . . It’s often the junior hires who get the responsibility of posting/handling those aspects as well. (Regional human resources manager, financial services)

Why? Like academics, business leaders expect these recent graduates to innately have the necessary technical skills to survive in this computer-dependent business world.

What students aren’t tech savvy these days? They are so much more fluent in general. They grew up on [productivity software]. It’s such a given that they have it — but it is a necessity. (HR generalist, financial services)

Business leaders look to their new hires to help the company in very specific ways.