US Millennials Flunk

global computer technology conceptUS Millennials Flunk in Comparison to International Counterparts – Should We Worry?

In 2013, the results of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) were published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  The PIACC is an assessment that was taken by a representative sample of adults ages 16-65 in 22 countries*.  The assessment focused on three areas: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technologically rich environment (PS-TRE**). The results showed that US adults exhibited dismal performance in all three categories – especially numeracy and PS-TRE.

Recently Educational Testing Service (ETS) released a report on 17 February 2015 focusing on the results of US adults who were under age 35 at the time of the assessment – the so-called millennial generation. The importance of this group is two-fold.  First, they are on the whole the most educated group in the US, and second, they are the economic engines for the future of the US economy.

The ETS report summarized the international comparisons in this way:

“How do the average scores of U.S. millennials compare with those in other participating countries?

  • In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
  • In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
  • In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
  • The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.”

The report concludes thusly:

“As a country, we need to confront not only how we can compete in a global economy, but also what kind of future we can construct when a sizable segment of our future workforce is not equipped with the skills necessary for higher-level employment and meaningful participation in our democratic institutions.”

Given the poor performance of US adults in comparison to our global economic competitors, and most notably our millennial generation, it is clear that the US faces a daunting challenge to stay economically competitive in the future.  Our workforce needs the skills and capabilities to fuel our economic growth and our educational systems need to focus less on degree attainment and more on skill attainment.

Should we worry?  I do.

**Australia, Flanders (Belgium), Norway, Austria, France, Poland, Canada, Germany, Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovak Republic, Denmark, Italy, Spain, England and Northern Ireland, Japan, Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands, United States, Finland

**For a more detailed explanation of PRE-TRE go to   

To read the full ETS report, go to


Dr. Janet Wall is Founder of, a provider of continuing education for career, academic, and workforce counselors and advisers. She is co-author of the Ability Explorer which helps people match their abilities to careers, and she is a consultant in career development and education.


One thought on “US Millennials Flunk

  1. Pingback: More Distressing News About Millennials and the Future of Our Workforce | Thoughts About Career Development

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