Another day, another whine about how millennials are ruining everything. This time, the Washington Post reports that American millennials failed at an exam* designed to measure technology and workplace skills.
This exam, given in 23 countries, assessed the thinking abilities and workplace skills of adults. It focused on literacy, math and technological problem-solving. The goal was to figure out how prepared people are to work in a complex, modern society.
And U.S. millennials performed horribly.
I'd love to know what the definition of skill is because employers misuse this word far too often. Knowing how to use Microsoft Office or write technical instructions are skills; knowing how to fill out a TPS report or manage the specific demands of a very hypercritical CEO's schedule are not. The most common misuse is when an employer requires candidates to know a particular of software that was developed exclusively for that company or an employer wants five years experience on something that has only been around for two years. There are other explanations as to why the skills gap is a myth, but I'll assume this research is using the term "skills" correctly.
"We were taken aback," said ETS researcher Anita Sands. "We tend to think millennials are really savvy in this area. But that's not what we are seeing."
This is a good example of the misconception that because millennials are supposed to be glued to their phones, that means they're tech savvy. I do not understand where this came from. Millions of Americans know how to book a flight or drive a car but that doesn't make them mechanical engineering experts. Similarly, a 20-something posting selfies to Facebook doesn't make him Annie Leibovitz. (The idea that poking at few buttons makes something look easy also fuels the nonsense that anyone can be a wedding photographer.)
American millennials are failing, according to this test. Here are a few reasons why.
1) Given the rise in standardized tests, I'm not surprised Americans failed on the problem solving and critical thinking sections. If all you've ever been told is to regurgitate things on standardized tests, then your critical thinking skills will never get developed. I've met plenty of job candidates who can tell me the specifics of the French Revolution, but I've rarely met someone who can really tell me why it happened. Not what a book says. I'm talking about the emotional elements of the downtrodden: empathy, anger, and resentment. (Is it any surprise we have an empathy gap on the race issue these days?)
2) The recession shifted the power to employers, and much of that imbalance remains. One element of that imbalance is that employers don't want to train workers anymore. We're all supposed to show up on the first day, knowing exactly where the bathrooms are, how to operate the company-specific software, how to check voicemail, and how to update the website. Part of that isn't employers' fault. They see how much people are spending on college degrees these days so I guess it's normal to demand the sun, stars, moon, Pluto, and the entire solar system.
3) A college degree costs 1200% more today than it did nearly 30 years ago. That price went up with no added value to it. Some of that is inflation, sure, but only a fraction of it. When the tuition skyrockets without wages, health care, home values, and the cost of other necessary good and services rising as well in proportion to tuition hikes, then you have college graduates saddled with debt they have zero hope of paying off in the near future. You don't have to be an economist to figure that out.
Millennials spent their formative years memorizing (read NOT studying) for standardized exams; then they went to a college or university that sold them a pile of crap about the pathway to the American middle class and where administrators were more interested in beefing up graduation rates than educating people; only to be spit out into a work world that doesn't have the time or patience to train or pay them properly.
Then we end up with studies like this that say American millennials are failing at everything.
Did we need to a study to tell us all this?
*If you'd like to take the test in question, it's at the bottom of the Washington Post article.