Why Millennials Are Being Left Behind at Work

A provocative new report finds though young American workers are more educated than ever before, their workplace skills are lacking compared to the rest of the world.

By Brenda SalinasFebruary 24, 2015 9:57 am

If you ask millennials to name some of workplace skills they should have learned in colleges, these are the answers that you’ll get:

“Email organization or running a calendar, things like that,” William Stamps says.

“Writing office memos, sending out appropriate emails,” Sophia Mackris says.

“Team management. Getting to work and understanding how to manage other people.
Mike Curry says.

“How to properly allocate your salary based on savings and long term goals,” Danny Cruz says.

Testing giant ETS is the company behind the new report. Researcher Anita Sands says millennials are behind left behind because colleges aren’t giving students the skills they need. She analyzed literacy and arithmetic skills of workers ages 16 through 65.

“Nearly two thirds of the millennials in numeracy score below what is regarded as a minimum standard,” Sands says. “And that’s a large percentage of the population to lack the skills necessary to participate in the 21st century in both the workplace and the family and the society overall.”

She’s not talking Outlook calendars – she’s worried about millennials’ information processing skills. Like being able to read something quickly and summarize it, or making a decision on their feet.

Michael Harris says the challenge for this generation is an education system that favors workplace readiness over a robust education. He is the director of the Center of Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University.

“Every test we have of CEOs will tell us that they want someone who is a critical thinker, someone that can write effectively, someone that can speak coherently and these are the most valuable skills,” Harris says.

Harris says the role of college isn’t to teach you how to write office memos – you’re supposed to learn that stuff on the job.

“You can learn how to work the fax machine, you can learn how to use the fancy new technology, but that will be out of date about as fast as you learn it,” Harris says. “However, if you know how to process information, how to critically analyze new information, that’s what’s going to prepare you in the long term.”

What you’re supposed to learn to college, is how to learn, he says.

But that doesn’t help frustrated law student Sophia Mackris.

“There’s just things I don’t think we’re being taught in an academic setting, just real world life skills that we’re not being taught,” Mackris says.

It seems like everybody disagrees on how to prepare young people for careers. Educators like Michael Harris think it’s the focus on career readiness and testing that does students a disservice, while the young people in this story think it’s that lack of entry-level skills.

One thing everyone agrees on – the research. This cohort of millennials is more unprepared to enter the workforce than any other in history.

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