Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
STUDENT LIFE / MAR. 02, 2015
version 4, draft 4

U.S. Millennials' Skills Lagging Behind Rest of the World

The weakening skills of the millennial generation within the borders of the United States pose a threat to the nation’s global competitiveness in the coming years, says a new study conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

U.S. is Lacking Skills

According to the report released on the 16th of February, millennials have the highest level of educational qualifications than any other preceding generation. However, at the same time, American millennials fail to demonstrate literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills in today’s highly technical environment when compared to their peers in the rest of the world.

Upon the conclusion of this study, the authors asked the question. Can the U.S. flourish and thrive when a considerable portion of the country - an age demographic that will soon control the workforce - can’t showcase rudimentary skills and thus attain employment and engage in a democracy?

Data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was used to compare the U.S. to 21 other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). U.S. millennials with an array of educational credentials scored lower than most other nations and fell to the bottom in numeracy and PS-TRE.

In addition, the youngest half of the millennial demographic - those between the ages of 16 and 24 - ranked last in numeracy and near the bottom in PS-TRE. Researchers were most concerned by this finding because this group will be a major component of the labor force for the next 50 or so years.

Rich Millenials Lack Skills Too

This isn’t a matter of income inequality, either. The data highlighted that the most educated, richest and native born millennials perform inadequately compared to their peers on the international stage. When it came to numeracy, the top-performing American millennials couldn’t live up to the top-performing millennials in 15 other competing nations.

In fact, according to the report, millennials with a four-year Bachelor’s degree only outperformed two other countries in numeracy: Poland and Spain. American millennials with a Master’s or research degree beat out only three of their OECD peers. U.S. millennials with only a high school diploma or less lost to every participating country. 

"While it is true that, on average, the more years of schooling one completes, the more skills one acquires, this report suggests that far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary educational programs without receiving adequate skills," writes Irwin Kirsch, Director of ETS’s Center for Global Assessment, in the report’s preface. "If we expect to have a better educated population and a more competitive workforce, policymakers and other stakeholders will need to shift the conversation from one of educational attainment to one that acknowledges the growing importance of skills." 

Is University a Waste of Money?

Despite U.S. millennials placing themselves in immense financial risk to attain post-secondary education, the study authors opined that higher education officials, policymakers and researchers must observe what educational programs and skills millennials are embracing. By doing this, the government and institutions can determine what programs are or are not increasing skills.

The Future is Worrying

Furthermore, according to the report authors, this is a systemic and social equity issue - in other words, there is something wrong with the U.S. education system. ETS researchers Madeline Goodman, Anita Sands and Richard Coley say this matter must be addressed immediately because millennials will shape the future of our economic and social landscapes in the coming years.

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