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Most people know that the USA no longer leads the world in education.  However, few Americans realize how literacy levels have fallen compared to other countries.

A report by the Education Testing Service (ETS) outlines how the drop in educational standards is much worse than most people imagine. This review analyzes information gathered by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

According to the report, America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future:

Recent research reveals an apparent paradox for U.S. millennials (born after 1980, ages 16–34).  While they might be the most educated generation ever, scores do not match.  They consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. As a country, simply providing more education may not be the answer. There needs to be a greater focus on skills — not just educational attainment — or we are likely to experience adverse consequences that could undermine the fabric of our democracy and community. Real world career building skills are important.  Someone going into PR or marketing would benefit from public speaking and writing classes.

The Paradox

The irony of this looming crisis is that the United States still has the knowledge and experience to offer its citizens a broad education. What’s more, for much of the first half of the last century it was far ahead of Europe when it came to educational leadership.

In the last century, it became clear that the United States needed more skilled workers to benefit from the industrial revolution. The consensus was that a high school education would be sufficient for the country to become a global economic powerhouse.

Call For Action

The nation rallied to this call with some decisive action. High school enrollment rose from 11 percent to 75 percent from 1900 to 1950. By the middle of the fifties, the rate of students in high school was double that of Europe. In 1944, when Britain was pushing the Education Act to give British children secondary school education, President Roosevelt was already initiating the GI Bill that would allow veterans to go to college tuition-free.

This remarkable history of educational achievement makes America’s educational crisis even more bewildering. Today, even working adults who did not get a chance to go to college or did not get the opportunity to go to graduate school, can sign up for accelerated degree programs at liberal art colleges like the Gwynedd Mercy Online Programs. Americans can now attend college classes in their pajamas after a hard day’s work simply by turning on their computers! Earning a degree that can launch your future without runining your present with time constraints and debt is a no brainer!

At present, the United States trails behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, and Poland in “cognitive skills and educational attainment.”

The world has not only caught up with the United States, but it is now leaving it behind. Starting in the 1970s, graduation rates from 4 year colleges fell dramatically.  Over the last generation, the United States has fallen behind many Asian and European countries.

The Looming Crisis

This falling level of literacy is a critical situation.  The demand for educated workers continues to increase every single year. Fast paced technology and increasing globalization is pushing the world forward. By the year 2020, as many as five million jobs will go untaken.  Why?  Because there will not be enough qualified people to do the work! In the 20th  century, a high school diploma was enough to secure a middle class life.  You could get ahead in manufacturing and retail work.  Moving forward, these jobs will be largely automated. Automation has already begun replacing labor in factories.

ACT, a nonprofit organization that focuses on building a link between education and workplace success, has a report called “Help Wanted: Many Youth Lack Education for Modern Workplace”.  The research paper summarizes the consequences of low educational attainment on young workers:

“Based on current completion rates, 24 percent of current high school freshmen are unlikely to complete high school and another 27 percent will earn a high school diploma but not pursue postsecondary education. While 65 percent of HSDGs continue directly on to college, few of these students persist to earn college degrees. This evidence suggests that the influx of new workers entering the labor force will do little to meet growing demand for high skilled labor. Rather, low educational attainment will leave many young workers with high unemployment rates, chronically low wages, and low wage growth.”

What Does This Mean for Hopeful Marketing and PR Pros?

All of this focus on educational achievement might seem strange.  The marketing and PR industry is more focused on contacts versus degrees and classroom achievements. Still, completing a degree and mastering some communication skills are two of the best things you can do if you want to further your career. Why? Many of the clients you will be marketing and promoting probably will have these high level educations.  You will have an easier time helping them achieve their goals if you can work on their level. This is particularly important if you are hoping to work with clients in the tech or educational fields.

Learning as much as you can is always going to be an asset. Focus your studies on your target area to gain an edge over your competitors helps.  You'll set yourself apart from them this way.  They'll be showing off their portfolio of “sample” campaigns, but you can show off your actual work!   It is especially helpful when you are a new graduate who hasn’t had the time to make many contacts or do much networking.