New Generation Z graduates are fluent in AI and ready to join the workforce

Gen Z have leveraged generative AI to discover what it can do, and are joining the workforce equipped with their new skills

An illustration of a person using touch screens and robots.
(Simoul Alva for The Washington Post)

It’s not a hallucination. The younger generation entering the workforce may be the best prepared to champion and use generative AI in the workplace.

For months, many of these up-and-comers have been exploring the capabilities of the technology, honing their skills and learning how to best apply it to their tasks at hand. And while some are wary of the potential harms of AI, many are more fascinated than concerned about the technology.

I’m really excited about AI and what it can do, said Naomi Davis, a business administration graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who uses AI to help her express her ideas clearly in writing. I used it every week [of my last semester]or at least he played with it.

Generative AI is seeing great success as it is integrated into workplace tools such as email providers, graphics editors, productivity tools and coding programs. Despite some leaders, including the creators of artificial intelligence, warning of doomsday scenarios in which technology takes over humanity, hundreds of thousands of Gen Z students born between 1997 and 2012 they have experienced it and, in some cases, have even been encouraged by their schools to explore it. Now, as new hires, Gen Z is putting their AI skills to work, accelerating more usage in the future. And young adults are more likely to use AI than their older counterparts at work, suggests a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Tell us what’s happening in your workplace.

Gen Z made up more than 13 percent of the civilian workforce last year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that number is only expected to grow as the youngest of Gen Z, also known as Zoomer, still has several years left before joining the workforce.

Because they were tykes, the Zoomers were exposed to digital devices and services, the oldest of the group being around a year old when Google launched. As a result, they tend to be open to exploring new technologies, including artificial intelligence, said Shaun Pichler, a professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at California State University, Fullerton.

They are the first generation of digital natives, she said, adding that many of the students grew up communicating digitally through text and social media. They are used to using technology day after day.

Zoomers have relied on the chatbot, ChatGPT by OpenAI, to help them write cover letters, edit essays, formulate or clarify ideas, check code, and even help with their finances. And some universities make generative AI part of their curriculum rather than banning it out of fear of cheating.

That was the case for students who took Kyle Jensens’ writing class at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus last semester. Jensen, also director of writing programs, said he had already explored generative AI before ChatGPT debuted in November. For his class, Jenson wanted to educate his students and learn how they feel and could use technology.

I thought this was an opportunity to teach AI literacy, she said. Let’s use this opportunity to think about different ways to apply AI and where it could be headed in the future.

The 16-week course for 14 students covered the history of AI and gave students access to generative AI tools. Jensen then asked students to discuss how they used the tools, as well as their benefits and limitations.

Ximena Vasquez Bueno, a 22-year-old writer, said she used AI to edit some of her essays. The AI ​​sometimes misinterpreted a long-winded sentence, which helped it figure out where it could have been clearer and more concise. She corrected the timing errors that she missed, as Spanish is her first language, and she showed it to him what he brings to the table.

It helped me better identify my voice as a writer and how it differs from AI, said Vasquez Bueno, a former computer science major who is considering a career in user experience writing when she graduates next year. I feel more comfortable using it for future projects.

AI also serves as a research resource for Zoomers. Cortez Hill, a business and theater major who plans to graduate from the University of Michigan next year, said he used generative AI to understand complex investment concepts by asking for terms a 5-year-old would understand and finding sources he could use for a paper.

It’s scary how our world is evolving, but I’m open to leaning into that discomfort, he said. Our world is just changing.

But technology isn’t just helping Zoomer write prose. Daniel Osorno Villamil, a computer science graduate from Georgia Tech, said he used ChatGPT to double-check his calculations and review the code. He once gave him 300 lines of code and asked him to find the problem, which he did. Generative AI has also helped with his finances, finding areas to reduce costs, he said. He said he’s excited to see how he can leverage it in his new software engineering I work at Microsoft in the fall.

Having something like this to code the boiler plate and give me time to figure out the real issues the prospect is exciting, he said. I’ve always loved technology, so it’s more exciting than scary.

While some programmers have worried about being replaced by artificial intelligence, Edith Llontop, who graduated in May with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, said she expects to work alongside it rather than be moved.

Coding can be left to generative models, but a lot of the creative process that is part of a software developer’s job probably won’t, he said. We don’t blindly code, it’s about what you can bring to the table to advance science.

Davis, the Georgia Tech grad who will join Google in August, says her experience shows that technology is only as good as the human driving it. The 21-year-old used it to generate ideas, enrich and clarify her thoughts. But even then, she has to check or change everything. She once had some code to write a chatbot, but after reviewing it she realized that the result was quite simple.

I really calmed down after that, she said. I get that you still need to put your brain power into it to make it look good.

But the explosion of artificial intelligence has changed the path of some young people. Rona Wang, who recently majored in mathematics and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, turned down a tech job she thinks might be subject to automation. Instead she he chose to pursue a master’s degree in programming closer to hardware.

It’s absolutely about staying ahead of the curve, he said. A good rule of thumb is to look for jobs and the skills they require [judgment] or search somehow.

Zoomers don’t ignore the possible harm, despite their excitement. Some say they are concerned about the implications of artificial intelligence, including its ability to spread misinformation, make people lazy to learn, raise the bar for entry-level jobs, and become a way for employers to cut wages. costs even if this means lowering the quality of work.

Andrew Otchere, who majored in drama at the University of Michigan, said the writers’ strike in Hollywood left him feeling conflicted. He sees value in using AI for character development research, but also worries that companies might use it for production or creative writing and other areas he hopes to pursue.

I’m really concerned that we might get into the habit of becoming too reliant on AI, valuing profits over people, he said. It’s really scary why [creativity is] one of my strongest assets.

But AI’s artistic abilities aren’t quite as impressive yet, at least not in music, said Michigan arts graduate Nolan Ehlers, who just completed his master’s degrees in percussion and chamber music. He has seen some of his peers experience how it can be used to generate music. But having used it himself for cover letters, he thinks it might be better suited for administrative duties.

Like it or not, it’s here, he said. So you might as well learn to use it now and get all the benefits. It won’t do us much good to nervously avoid it.

For many Zoomers, AI is viewed primarily as a new technology to help save time and develop new skills.

I don’t think this is a phase, said Mashal Imtiaz, a Berkeley graduate and new Microsoft software engineer, adding that he is comfortable with the technology but hasn’t used it at work yet. This is one of those things that will be used more and more and will become part of our daily life.

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