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June 25, 2024

How GenAI is impacting Gen Z's education and careers

We dug into our data to better understand employer demand for early talent with AI skills, how Gen Z is using AI day to day, and how young professionals feel about this groundbreaking technology.

Over the past year, generative AI tools have gone from a curiosity to a fixture of many workplaces—and the youngest generation of employees is arguably the best-equipped to leverage these tools on the job. We dug into our data to better understand employer demand for early talent with AI skills, how Gen Z is using AI day to day, and how young professionals feel about the potential impact of AI on their careers. Here are our top four takeaways:

  1. Employers are increasingly seeking AI-savvy talent—the share of job descriptions on Handshake that mention generative AI tools has more than tripled over the past year.
  2. More than half of students regularly use generative AI tools, although usage varies by major and school selectivity.
  3. Students who use generative AI tools are largely self-taught. Almost 80% of students who use these tools say they taught themselves, compared to 15% who learned in a formal education setting.
  4. A majority of students are worried about how generative AI will impact their careers, and concern about AI has remained fairly consistent over the past year.

Employers are increasingly seeking AI-savvy talent

In a recent Microsoft survey, 71% of business leaders said they’d rather hire a less experienced candidate with AI skills than a more experienced candidate without them. And although fluency with AI tools isn’t yet a common requirement for entry-level jobs posted on Handshake, the share of job descriptions that mention these tools has more than tripled over the past year.

Notably, AI tools are mentioned in descriptions for a wide range of job roles, from tech jobs (e.g. software engineers, data analysts, and graphic designers) to roles in marketing, media, sales, and general office operations. 

More than half of students regularly use generative AI tools

Awareness of generative AI increased rapidly in 2023. The vast majority of students are now familiar with generative AI tools, and 54% are using them at least once a week.

However, our data suggests most students are leveraging AI for personal tasks—or just for fun—as opposed to using it to help with coursework or job applications. Less than a quarter of students say they have used or plan to use generative AI to complete course assignments, and less than a third have used or plan to use it to create resumes, cover letters, or other job application materials.

“I mostly use AI out of curiosity and for proof reading my work. I do not create any creative content using it, nor would I want to.”

—Class of 2024 student, non-tech major

“I'm hesitant to use generative AI because it doesn't seem ‘officially’ accepted or commonplace yet, and I would feel lazy and guilty for using it to do work for me.”

—Class of 2024 student, tech major

As generative AI usage becomes more widespread, it’s also becoming apparent that some students are less likely to experiment with generative AI tools. More than half of students at schools with more inclusive admissions policies say they rarely or never use generative AI, compared to about 40% of students at more selective schools. Similarly, while almost one in four students majoring in tech fields use generative AI on a daily basis, the same is true of only one in ten students majoring in non-tech fields. Non-tech students are also significantly less likely to say they expect to use generative AI in their careers.

These discrepancies point to a need for more AI literacy training in less-selective schools and as part of non-tech degree programs, especially as employers increasingly seek AI-savvy talent for roles in marketing, business, and other non-tech fields. 

Students who use generative AI are largely self-taught

When asked how they’ve learned to use generative AI tools, students are by far most likely to say they’ve taught themselves through hands-on experimentation. Learning from friends and peers is a distant runner-up, followed by learning from content on social media. Only 15% of students mention building generative AI skills through formal education, such as a course at their college or university.

Students majoring in non-tech fields are somewhat less likely to teach themselves to use generative AI, and are also less likely to seek out instruction from blogs and online tutorials. However, they are significantly more likely to say they’ve learned to use generative AI from friends, peers, and social media. These trends suggest that informal, short-form content and peer-to-peer instruction can play an important role in building non-tech students’ AI literacy.

More than half of students worry about how generative AI will impact their careers

Even as students become more familiar with generative AI tools, many remain anxious about how this new technology will affect their career prospects. About half of 2024 graduates are somewhat or highly worried about the impact of generative AI, a slight increase from the Class of 2023. Tech majors are less likely to be concerned, but the gap is relatively small—among Class of 2024 students, 45% of tech majors are somewhat or highly worried, compared to 50% of non-tech majors.

“My job will be in process automation engineering. This field already involves AI, and I worry that if AI advances too much, it could push me out of a job.”

—Class of 2024 student, tech major

“AI art has been on the rise for the past few years. This means that I have to not only compete for a job with other humans, but also with the AI generators.”

—Class of 2025 student, non-tech major

Many students are also worried about how AI will impact education, creativity, and professional ethics more broadly. In responses to open-ended survey questions, students shared concerns related to academic and professional integrity and the quality of human-centered products and services produced by AI, as well as global implications for unemployment and long-term innovation:

“I want AI to tell me when I'm low on milk and guide my vacuum around, not take away creative jobs and innovation. I don't worry about it taking my job, but I do worry about the global implications of it taking livelihoods from others and putting talented people at a disadvantage.”

—Class of 2024 student, tech major

“I feel that AI reduces people's willingness to learn and be curious. People do not want to learn or challenge themselves because they have access to a robot that can do anything they'd like it to do.”

—Class of 2027 student, non-tech major

“AI is so new and it's progressing so fast. It's hard to know if it is the most helpful thing for us or if it will affect things negatively in the future.”

—Class of 2024 student, non-tech major

“I worry that many companies will try to replace a significant portion of their workforce with AI, and I believe ultimately this will lead to inferior products and services and a deficit of jobs.”

—Class of 2024 student, tech major

Gen Z will play a key role in integrating AI at work

The youngest generation of workers has embraced experimentation with AI tools, while also maintaining a healthy level of skepticism about how these tools should be used and their long-term implications for the well-being of both employees and companies. Employers can and should rely on Gen Z to leverage AI thoughtfully and to bring an informed and balanced perspective to AI initiatives—strengths that every company will need as this technology continues to evolve.


Job description keyword trends are based on an analysis of all jobs and internships posted on the Handshake platform between January 1, 2023 and May 5, 2024. The following keywords were included in this analysis: ChatGPT, DALL-E, Midjourney, Claude, Anthropic, Gemini, Copilot.

Gen Z sentiment data is based on surveys of students on the Handshake platform conducted between July 2023 and March 2024. Each survey was completed by at least 2,500 students enrolled in four-year degree programs, representing at least 400 different US higher education institutions.

School selectivity was derived from the selectivity field of the Carnegie Classification for four-year undergraduate institutions. Selective institutions were those that were classified as “selective” and “more selective” (40th percentile or above among all baccalaureate institutions based on admissions), while Inclusive institutions included those defined by Carnegie as “inclusive” as well as those not classified.

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