Millennials not so smart

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome to class, American millennials. Sit down and take notes — because you are in for a rude awakening.

According to a report by the Educational Testing Service, you have “weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments” when compared to your international peers.

Based on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, a survey of adult skills, American millennials didn’t perform so well.

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Our millennials “scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries” in literacy. “Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores,” the ETS report says.

“In numeracy, they ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.”

In problem-solving in technology-rich environments, they “also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.”

And “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” technological problem-solving. “In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.”

Oh, well. At least our millennials are No. 1 in self-esteem!

When you consider that the key area of job growth in America is in the technology sector — where communication, math and problem-solving skills are essential — the future doesn’t bode well for millions of you millennials.

As the report notes, those with the proper education and skills will do better than prior generations, whereas those of you with the lowest level of skills are in for a world of hurt — like millions of former middle-class Americans who are hurting because good-paying jobs that do not require advanced skills are a thing of the past.

What’s puzzling is that you American millennials have had more years of education than any cohort in American history — but far too many of you “are graduating high school and completing postsecondary educational programs without receiving adequate skills,” says Irwin Kirsch, director of the ETS Center for Global Assessment.

What’s worse is that you highly educated millennials have lower literacy and numeracy skills when compared with previous adult surveys. The more you are schooled, the less you are learning.

I, for one, am worried sick over your lack of skills. Your generation will be in charge of the economy in the next 20 years, and I need you to succeed so that you can pay my Medicare and Social Security bills.

But I’m not sure most of you will pull it off. Your generation got A’s for showing up to class. You didn’t have to win to get a trophy. You were discouraged from competing. You were told you were smart without having to accomplish much.

But reality is catching up and it isn’t going to be pretty. Millennials in other countries are hungrier than you. They have developed skills and are prepared to compete for the technology jobs of the future. In the real world, you can’t opt out of competing with them, which is why I worry.

So, what to do? ETS recommends that educators and other stakeholders must rethink their teaching processes. Kids need to develop real, usable skills as they complete their courses — not just passing grades.

Fortunately, many organizations are working feverishly to help kids develop STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills to fend off a projected shortage of Americans with these needed skills.

I hate to be so brash, American millennials, but you are not so smart or skilled as you think. You need to get cracking.

If you succeed, America will flourish. If you fail, America will suffer. Our future is up to you.


Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to Tom at