When you are the “young” person in the office, you may often get assigned numerous odd tasks related to technology. I say “young” because it is always a relative term. Sometimes this may be a convenient excuse to assign you tedious tasks, other times it may come from a lack of technological awareness or competency. The latter was often evidenced when a marketing department would hire an intern to manage their social media while today most companies are hiring full-time specialists for each platform. This may change as time passes (I was in the first generation to grow up with technology) but either way I have learned some valuable lessons from my experiences being the “young” person in the office.
I have been working in higher education administration for almost ten years and have been shocked to learn how slowly education adapting new technologies. This is likely due to the significant expense, and lack of resources or knowledge (I would assume this is similar for other non-profits but may vary drastically compared to for-profit organizations). There are plenty of tools available and many are specialized for education but they are often cost-prohibitive, require substantial staff support especially during implementation, and rarely work well with other software already being used by the university. Schools are also very concerned about data security and have been slow to adapt for that reason.
Several years ago my school switched to gmail after a very long contract and implementation process, much of which had to do with data security. When it was finally rolled out, the university enlisted members from each department to be Google Guides to help their coworkers adapt to the new program. As someone who already used gmail, it seemed silly to me to train someone to be a Google Guide since it was so simple to me. However, I listed to the questions in those trainings and sat with my colleagues as they were learning the new programs and realized just how necessary Guides were. People had become accustomed to using Outlook and it took several months for the complaints in my office to die out. In that circumstance I wondered then as I have many times before, “how can you not see how much better this is?”
I would assume the expectations related to technological competency vary greatly by field and as time passes, but to some extent every field has dealt with the generational divides created by emerging technologies. The learning curve for adapting new technologies seems to get steeper as one gets older and this has increased dramatically in the digital era (our grandparents had to adjust to improvements to the printing press while today some wonder how long we’ll need to print things at all). As companies were first adapting digital technologies, there were likely many positions or individual people exempted from adapting because at the time it was seen as unnecessary given that training requires allocation of time and money. But as time passes, the skills that are seen as universally necessary are expanding and the baseline competencies seem to be increasing so this generational divide could narrow.
As an example, I could see a baseline level knowledge of coding becoming a common job requirement as companies increasingly become more digital. And as someone who doesn’t know much about coding, I think my familiarity with computers allows me to see how important of a skill that is for an employee. And while I think my familiarity with technology will lessen the generational divide, I also think for many companies, they have made a generational excuse out of a problem caused by poor training and failure to believe or invest in their employees. They have relied on an approach that leave it to the new “young” staff members, because sometimes being “young” still doesn’t mean they have the necessary skills to be successful.
As a young professional, my department was implementing a long overdue online application and was beginning to look at new marketing opportunities. Because I was the “young” person, I was tapped to help make updates to the website and help with testing the new website. They hired a marketing agency to plan the campaign but because our office didn’t have a marketing person we didn’t have a plan for ad design or google ad implementation and tracking. They were able to working with university marketing for some basic ad pieces and looked to me as the “young” guy who had a good understanding of this stuff to manage the other pieces. I reached out to other departments across the university to see what I could find out and largely speaking this seemed like something new to most of the university community. My supervisor would ask me for updates and reports with more information to see how things were going despite my insistence that I really lacked expertise in the area. While I could follow directions to place embedded code on the website and monitor traffic, I really needed additional training. I was literally telling my supervisor (and anyone at the university who I thought could help) that I was in over my head and could really use some help and training (none of this was in my job description as is often the case). It was basically the best we could do with the allocated resources when universities are reluctant to spend money on things they haven’t had to in the past and little seen return on investment.
While it was often a frustrating experience, I did learn a lot about organizational management, strategic planning, and technology. I think my willingness to help coworkers with their technology needs, ability to learn new technologies quickly, and candor with the limitations of my abilities allowed me to be successful in my bosses eyes, but I know we had barely scratched the surface and needed more resources to be successful (as I shared probably ad nauseum to everyone who would listen). If you find yourself in a similar position, I would recommend being honest and clear about your abilities so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Had I not been transparent, I could have made myself look like a fool. As I mentioned with changes in expected skills for employment, I encourage people to seek out opportunities to learn about new technologies and skills that can make you more marketable and productive as an employee. Lastly, when in management positions, be attentive to the needs and concerns of your employees to try to prepare for obstacles when strategic planning. Our office knew we had to adapt quickly but wasn’t quite aware of all the potential hurdles.