U.S. Adults Are Average or Behind in Key Skills

Compared with their peers in more than 20 other countries, American adults are not performing well in subject areas necessary for work.

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A new study reveals that adults in the U.S. are lagging behind other countries in skill areas critical for the workplace.

According to the report — an analysis of Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC) testing data — U.S. adults ages 16 to 65 are trailing behind adults in other countries in literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving. Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics told U.S. News & World Reportthis month that the U.S. adult population was especially weaker in numeracy and digital problem-solving than in literacy.

More than 20 countries participated in the study including the United States, which showed the U.S. scoring a 272 in literacy on a scale of zero to 500; the PIAAC international average score is 273. The United States scored a respective 257 and 274 in numeracy and problem-solving in “technology-rich environments,” both below PIAAC international averages in those areas — 269 in numeracy and 283 in problem-solving.

PIAAC is a cyclical study that also looks at the relationship between skills, educational attainment and employment. In the U.S., the National Center for Education Statistics found that a larger percentage of adults ages 16 to 65 who were unemployed and out of the labor force scored at the lowest level across all three subjects compared with their employed peers. Further, a high school diploma or less was the highest level of educational attainment for 75 percent of the unemployed adults ages 16 to 65, and about one-third of that performed at the lowest level in literacy. About half of this group performed at the assessment’s lowest level in numeracy.

Job openings are still at historically high levels, and unemployment has hovered around 5 percent since August 2015. The PIACC data suggests a necessary, but quite steep, hill persists for organizations internal development efforts because they’re looking for talent when, within the pool of available candidates, few people are workforce ready.


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