More Distressing News About Millennials and the Future of Our Workforce

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More Distressing News About Millennials and the Future of Our Workforce

A few weeks ago I reported on the results of the Programme for the International
Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) focusing on the competencies of our millennials as compared to the competencies of comparable cohorts in 22 developed countries. Millennials Flunk

In that blog post I reported that the US millennials were last to near last on assessments measuring literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technologically rich environment.

At an Educational Testing Service seminar today, I learned of more bad news about the most highly educated group in the US, our millennial population.

  • US millennials in the top 10% (90th percentile and higher) scored lower than the top scoring millennials in 15 of the 22 countries that participated in the assessment.
  • Our lowest scoring millennials (bottom 10% or lower) scored lower than 19 of the 22 countries and tied at the bottom with two others.
  • US millennials with a postsecondary education (but without a bachelor’s degree) scored about the same as the average of millennials in all the tested countries that have a high school degree.
  • US millennials with a master’s degree scored about the same as the average of all the tested millennials holding a bachelor’s degree.
  • White and Asian millennials, although scoring low, outperformed Black and Hispanic millennials.

As one of the presenters today said, the US ranked first in one area – the skills gap in numeracy.  If you examine the score range between those at the 10th percentile and the 90th percentile the US leads the pack with a difference of 139 points. The UK and Australia, and Canada are next in line. This means that the US has the greatest inequality in achievement than any other of the countries that participated in the assessment program. As a country intent on closing the achievement gap and helping all individuals succeed, this is not good news for sure.

One last bit of gloom and doom….  When comparing the numeracy results from the PIAAC assessment of 2012 to the performance on a similar assessment in 2003, the scores of our millennials with a high school degree and above a high school education actually declined!

Millennials are those ages 16-34 who are just starting out in the workforce and they will be the foundation of the US economic engine as we compete in the global economy.  If our workers are behind in the important skills and capabilities necessary to help the US maintain its economic position in the world, the future doesn’t look too bright. In addition, if there are skill haves and have not’s in this country, the dream of a more equitable society will remain elusive. 

The report, America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future, sums it up by saying

“While the US is the wealthiest nation among the OECD countries (those tested) it is also among the most economically unequal.  A nation that spends more per student on primary through tertiary education than any other OECD nation, systematically scores low on domestic and international assessment of skills.  A nation ostensibly based on the principles of meritocracy ranks among the highest in terms of the link between social background and skill level.  And a nation with some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world houses a college-educated population that scores among the lowest of the participating OECD nations in literacy and numeracy.”

As I asked in the previous post, Should we worry?  I do.

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.


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