Navigating Today’s Generational Digital Divide

In an era where technology evolution is ceaseless, the generational digital divide has become increasingly evident.


The generational digital divide refers to the varying levels of access to and proficiency with digital technologies between different age groups.


In previous roundtable discussions we have talked about changing the way we hire talent by tailoring our strategies for the diverse pool of talent at hand. What leaders should focus on today is the muti-generational workforce and how this affects the day-to-day working environment, particularly the lack of knowledge in new and emerging technologies causing a new kind of disparity between the tech-savvy and the tech-immigrants.


Read on to find out how organisations are managing this within their teams, what barriers they face when it comes to new technology adoption in the workforce and how leaders can implement initiatives and solutions to solve the matter once and for all.


An overview of the divide

The digital landscape has given rise to a noticeable generational divide in technological proficiency, highlighting the challenges faced by those less adept in navigating the digital realm. 


This emerging issue of generational digital exclusion is explored in Advanced's comprehensive report, "The Digital Natives Report," which delves into the perspectives of over 1,000 UK senior business decision makers across different age groups. The report underscores the growing influence of the younger generation, now a substantial segment of the workforce, and sheds light on the contrasting attitudes towards technology. 


A striking contrast emerges as nearly twice as many Gen Z workers incorporate chatbots into their daily work routines compared to their counterparts above the age of 55. Artificial Intelligence (AI) garners significant usage among Gen Z, standing at an impressive 40 percent—significantly higher than the adoption rates among Traditionalists and Baby Boomers at 28 percent. 


The generational digital divide and its implications on older generations are made clear, emphasising the need for an inclusive and digitally empowered future spanning all age groups. While over half of Traditionalists and Baby Boomers believe that learning from younger generations is key to meeting digital demands, 61 percent of them advocate for harnessing the skills of multiple generations—a sentiment shared by just 30 percent of Gen Z individuals.


Barriers to adoption and daily life

The Director of Internet and Technology Research at Pew Research Center, Monica Anderson, and former research analyst Andrew Perrin conducted a study on technology adoption among older adults, with a large section dedicated to the barriers to adoption and attitudes towards technology.


“One challenge facing older adults with respect to technology is the fact that many are simply not confident in their own ability to learn about and properly use electronic devices.” With a general focus on U.S internet users, they found that seniors are less confident than their younger counterparts (categorised as those 65 years and under) when it comes to using electronic devices.


Aside from this, factors such as fear of the unknown, technophobia and the overwhelming pace of technological change are barriers to adopting technologies. Resistance to new technologies is not uncommon, whether it is fear of dramatic change such as AI police vans or mass adoption of AI chatbots like Bard and Open AI’s ChatGPT. There are a number of reasons why many older individuals find it challenging to keep up with the digital landscape.


A lack of comfort and familiarity with technology can have a negative impact on quality of life for some individuals, especially those from older generations. A feature from the Guardian argued that the digital world is “failing the non-tech savvy”, thus creating this generational technology divide.


The intergenerational workforce 

In the past the younger generations acknowledged a power dynamic, sidelining them as inexperienced or considered “young blood”. Now this dynamic has changed, with Gen Z generally having the upper-technological-hand. 


The Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR) found that the age diversity in today’s current workforce is the widest it has ever been, with the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z working alongside each other. How does HotTopics’ C-suite community view this change in workforce demographics?


“Having that pool of talent with different aspirations, different working styles and different knowledge is a great asset to organisations”, according to Allan Walters, speaking in the roundtable debate “Hiring Strategies for a Multi-Generational Workforce” at a previous virtual Studio event.


The key-word here is ‘asset’, which has been floated often in this context. Companies are reminded to stay flexible and dynamic, allowing each team member to teach one another the skills they may lack whether it is learning how to use social media or writing a complicated piece of code.


Initiatives and solutions

HotTopics community member Freddie Quek, CTO at Times Higher Education, recently attended the BCS Digital Skills Network event in Reading, where he spoke about the issue of digital poverty, an area he specialises in as Chair of the Digital Divide Specialist Group. 


One of the main topics in the panel debate revolved around supporting over-50s back into the workforce. STEMO Returners Program Manager Simon Hutt and CMI Strategic Partnerships Proposition Manager Amanda Wood emphasised that age diverse teams are more stable and productive for organisations: “improving our ability to get this group back into work would increase our GDP by 20%”.


There are a number of initiatives, programs and charity organisations aiming to bridge the generational digital divide among the various generations that make up the intergenerational workforce.

Here are the top three:


The Good Things Foundation

“We are a charity with one clear mission: to Fix the Digital Divide - for Good.”


Charity Digital

“We want everyone in the sector to have access to high-quality, cost-effective technology, as well as the skills, knowledge, and resources to make the most of those tools.”


Tech for Good

“Tech For Good tells inspiring stories about how technology is being used as a positive force in society and helping to solve some of the world’s most critical challenges.”


What does the intergenerational workforce look like for your organisation? Let us know in the comments below:

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