The Hard Task of Filling Jobs With The Most Educated Generation
Many Millennials are still struggling to find a foothold in the U.S. labor market, but at first glance these workers have a big advantage. They have completed more higher education than any other generation did during their 20s and 30s. As of 2013, 65% of 25 to 34 year-olds had received at least some postsecondary education. And the rate of young workers who complete their degree has been rising.
As Baby Boomers retire, the overall education level of the American workforce is rising. Ideally, more education leads to higher wages and lower unemployment. But these increasing levels of education have not led to increasing levels of workers with the right skills. So while Millennials may be entering the workplace more degrees than ever before, employers are still facing a very real skills shortage.
Millennials with bachelor’s degrees are serving espresso and tending bar, while crucial roles in technology and manufacturing go unfilled. Despite long-running predictions of technology replacing people in a wide variety of jobs, workers are still very much in demand. In this post we’ll explore the educational achievements of Millennials, and consider how well they are fitting in to the current labor market.
Educational Attainment Among Millennial Workers
The rapidly accelerating costs of college have not deterred Millennials from seeking higher education. According to data collected in 2014, 27% of Millennial women and 21% of Millennial men had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. One or two generations ago, workers who completed high school could expect to find jobs that paid a livable wage. But today high school diplomas serve little purpose, besides getting students into postsecondary programs.
And Millennials are well aware of the disadvantages they face if they don’t complete college. The median salary of a Millennial with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000 last year. But their peers who only completed high school could expect to earn an average of $28,000. As of September 2015, the unemployment rate for holders of bachelor’s degrees was down to 2.5%, but as high as 7.9% for workers who did not finish high school.
Higher initial earnings and better overall job prospects have convinced many Millennials that a college degree is the key to a successful career. And they’re correct in terms of wages–the gap in earnings between educated and uneducated workers persists over time. It can even lead to greater wage gains as degree holders move up the career ladder and complete more professional development and continuing education.
How Millennials Are Preparing for the Workforce
If Millennials are getting degrees in record numbers, and the number of job openings is increasing, why are employers still struggling to fill open positions? A quick review of the actual degrees Millennials are completing suggest there is a disparity between what young workers want to study in college, and what employers want new and future workers to focus on.
While fields in STEM such as computer science and engineering are growing in popularity, the most commonly conferred bachelor’s degrees as of the 2011-2012 school year were business, social science, and history. And the highest numbers of master’s degrees that year were awarded in business and education. More recent data suggests growth in humanities and social science degrees is slowing down, but the college program that experienced the biggest decline in enrollment from 2010 to 2014 was actually military technologies and applied science, which fell 30%.
Regardless of the degrees they confer, an overwhelming 72% of educational institutions feel their students are prepared for the workplace after college. Yet only 37% of HR leaders would say the same. And if you ask Millennials themselves? Overall, they think they have the professionalism, intellectual ability, teamwork, analytical skills, and creative thinking necessary for employment. But only 24% feel they have strong leadership skills, and 72% of Millennials think their current employer doesn’t make full use of their skills.
Millennials and the Skills Shortage
There’s no doubt a gap exists between the goals of educational institutions, and the desires of employers. But a closer examination of the state of today’s workforce, and the current and future needs of employers, can lead to better collaboration between the two. The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC), created by the OECD, which measures the literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills of people ages 16 to 65 across the globe, is a good place to start.
American Millennials scored below their peers in 15 of the 22 countries surveyed in literacy, and they actually ranked last in numeracy (tied with Italy and Spain). When it came to problem solving, U.S. Millennials tied for last again with peers in Ireland, Poland and the Slovak Republic. While the PIACC is based on a sample of the overall population, it’s results are telling. Many of the basic skills that lead to success in the workplace are lacking among some Millennials.
But the results should not lead to more distress over the quality of Millennial workers–these members of the workforce are the direct result of the education and work experience we have provided for them. Millennials in the post-recession era have grown up with staggering levels of student debt, and experienced one of the most difficult job markets in history. Employers and educational institutions should join forces to cultivate existing and upcoming entry-level workers, to ensure they arrive at work with the right knowledge and skills.
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