Between 1977 and 1997, a new era of technology was born. And so were Millennials. As the first generation to grow up with cable, Internet, and cell phones, many say Millennials were born with technology, to an extent, in their DNA. Nielsen reports that 24 percent of Millennials list technology use as the top reason to what makes their generation unique, followed by music and pop culture.
Despite being termed “digital natives,” Millennials aren’t as tech-savvy as the nickname suggests. A report by Change the Equation, a group that researches STEM education, reports that while Generation Y spends an average of 35 hours on digital media each week, almost six in ten can’t do basic tasks on email or spreadsheets.
This may come as a shock to those who see Millennials as glued to their smartphones, tablets, and gadgets.
Brandon Smith, the director of academic project support at the Ball State Digital Corps, said oftentimes, there is a pressure for Millennials to get the latest gadget or try the latest social network, but that the tools are more powerful than people realize.
“You should not expect a young person to pick up their mobile device for the first time and know how to navigate everything they now have access to,” Brandon said.
To him, there is a certain expectation to own and be engaged in new technologies. Because of this, sometimes young people will own technology but still not completely understand certain programs and skills.
Change the Equation’s report found 58 percent of Millennials have low technological skills when it comes to solving problems. In this study, test takers were ranked as Level 3, Level 2, Level 1, or Below Level 1. Nineteen percent of Millennials scored below Level 1, meaning they would have trouble sorting email responses to a party invitation into folders to keep track of who can attend.
The results of this study line up with the changing landscape of the workforce in America. Higher technology skills are necessary to solving problems, but many Millennials haven’t yet fully developed these skills.
Despite Millennials lacking some technical competence, they are still learning about new technologies and adapting to them faster than other generations. A study by Barkley, a marketing and communication service, found that Millennials are more than twice as likely to be an early adopter of technology. Fifty-six percent of Millennials say they are a part of the first group to try new technology, while 35 percent of non-Millennials report they usually wait a year before trying new technology.
One of the ways Millennials have adapted to technology is through the power of the web. When it comes to the Internet, this group is always online. And although this group has constant access to the Internet, Barkley reports Millennials and non-Millennials alike spend the same amount of time online – eleven to twenty hours.
This is from where many of the misconceptions about Millennials and technology may come. Millennials adapt to new technologies quickly, and stay connected more than older generations, yet they lack many of the technical skills their older co-workers may have.
Brandon said the key to making the technology transition easier for Millennials is education. He said media literacy classes would help to get young people more assimilated with the technology with which they are already growing up.
“These sorts of learning experiences would help young people figure out how to filter, sort, and deal with the information they are bombarded with every day and help them better plan how they want to contribute to all that noise,” he said.
He said knowing how to edit video, manipulate photos, and publish a website are helpful tools for anyone to know.
“As these students get older, they can start to make bigger, more important contributions to the overall discussions using some advanced tools,” Brandon said.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest professional services firms in the world, released a report that stated one of the most defining characteristics of Generation Y is that they did grow up with technology. Because of this, the report said, this is the first generation to enter the workforce with a better understanding of a key business tool than older generations.
Forty-one percent of Millennials say they prefer to communicate electronically at work, compared to face-to-face communication, PwC reported. Three-quarters even believe technology makes them more effective at work. This suggests that Millennials are getting the latest gadgets and communicate using technology, particularly in the workplace, but that they might not understand specific functions that their older co-workers do.
Millennials are entering the workplace with a better grasp of social media, an understanding of communication apps and tools, and ability to use the latest gadgets. But when it comes to sorting emails, creating spreadsheets, or publishing a website, their older co-workers may have sharper skills. While Millennials did grow up with technology in their DNA, it may take some effort before they have the knowledge necessary to be truly tech-savvy.