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Gen Z meets Gen AI

30th January 2024 by Jamie Masraff, Chief Executive, OnSide

Generative AI (Gen AI) has become a staple in our daily conversations, with “AI” securing its spot as the standout word of 2023. This transformative technology is due to change many aspects of our lives, including the world of work and reshaping industries and roles. Gen AI is not just a trend; the shift is from “if” we’ll adopt this technology to “when” and “how”.

Gen AI has incredible possibilities for future generations. It has the potential to improve social mobility by ensuring fairer access to education and employment. For education, all pupils could benefit from virtual assistants that understand a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses, adapt learning to go at their own pace and broaden access to personalised education. In employment, AI has the potential to bring around a similar, and maybe even more profound, transformation than the internet had previously, opening new, less-restricted routes to career success. It is even transforming careers in the creative sectors through its use in creating art, music, and other content.

As with every technological revolution, there are major opportunities and significant risks, particularly for those less prepared for their impact. The sad reality is that digital poverty is more likely to impact young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Limited access to devices, unreliable internet, and disparities in educational opportunities could mean some young people are more likely to be left behind. Gen AI has also created uncertainty about what it could mean for job opportunities and fear that it could replace some roles. Finally, Gen AI comes with other well-documented risks, like the sometimes false plausibility of the information it generates, which can be hard to spot when presented as fact.

As a youth charity, it’s important that we play our part in helping young people navigate uncertainty and seize opportunities and ensuring that our most disadvantaged young people start from the same position. Our first step has been to better understand their perceptions and understanding of AI so we can best support them. Our recent poll of almost 1,000 members aged 8-25 found that young people are confused and unprepared for AI opportunities. We asked if they thought Gen AI would have a good or bad impact on the world. 65% said it would either have a bad impact or that they were unsure. Recent data suggest there will be a 40% increase in demand for jobs requiring AI or machine learning skills in the next five years, yet 68% of our survey respondents answered no or were unsure when asked if AI would help them get a job in the future. Our survey also found that 52% of young people didn’t know how to access Gen AI tools like ChatGPT, and 70% aren’t learning about AI in schools.

It’s clear that we can’t rely solely on schools alone and that we in the youth sector have a role to play. We need to provide young people with opportunities to access and learn about emerging technology and to equip them with the skills to utilise technology that will no doubt play a key part in their careers.

That’s why we’ve launched the OnSide Gen AI Pioneers programme in partnership with Blenheim Chalcot to help young people understand what AI is and how to use it confidently and safely. AI experts at Blenheim Chalclot will train youth workers across our Network on how to introduce Gen AI tools to members, incorporate the technology into Youth Zone activities, and work towards achieving a new certification as a Generative AI Pioneer. The programme will then be rolled out to other Youth Zones, with hundreds more young people set to take part.

With this programme, we will play our part in equipping young people from many of the country’s most disadvantaged areas with the knowledge and skills they need to seize the opportunities of Gen AI. Young people deserve nothing less. Recent research from Teach First shows that many families do not see STEM careers as something for their children. So, while it is important that all young people are equipped to seize digital opportunities, we must ensure that our most disadvantaged young people aren’t behind.