Almost 60% of 'digital natives' lack basic digital skills

New study highlights need for STEM programs in schools

Nearly six of 10 millennials lack basic technology skills such as sorting, finding, and emailing data from a spreadsheet, according to a new study from Change the Equation, a cohort of education organizations and businesses.

For the report, the American Institutes for Research examined data from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). They analyzed test results for 5,000 U.S. test-takers who ranged in age from 16 to 64. Millennials were defined as being between 16 and 34 years old. Depending on their skills, participants received scores that placed them: below level 1, in level 1, in level 2, or in level 3.

Related story: Millennials still struggling in the labor market

Fifty-eight percent of millennial test-takers placed below level 2—meaning they could not solve a multi-step task that required more than one computer program.  And 19% of the sample could not complete basic tasks such as creating folders to organize their email.

And this may be affecting their employment and earning opportunities. Those with the lowest skill levels earned almost 40% less on average than those with the highest skill levels. And despite the fact that 91% of millennials said that a lack of computer skills is irrelevant to their jobs, just 37% of employers said they consider recent college graduates well prepared to adapt to new technologies.

"Our findings go against the assumption that America's first generation of 'digital natives' [is] tech savvy," says Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation. "If we continue to leave young people to their own devices—quite literally—their low skills will become a dead weight on individual opportunity and American productivity."

To improve technology skills, Jo Handelsman, the White House associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, announced three initiatives:

1. Incorporate practical problems into the classroom.

2. Use active learning to engage students.

3. Promote "exciting" careers in the STEM field (Schaffhauser, The Journal, 6/11; Molnar, "Digital Education," Education Week, 6/12).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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