Millennials and the Achievement Gap

As we face the onslaught of Gen Y/Millennials in the workplace, it’s wise to remember that these new employees present some special management challenges by virtue of the way they have been educated. Tom Wagner has taken a look at how children are raised and educated in the United States and his conclusions are troubling. In his book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need — and What We Can Do About It, he identifies 7 key survival skills that they appear to lack:

* Critical thinking and problem solving — at every level in the organization, people need to be rigorous thinkers who test assumptions and don’t rely on preconceived notions.
* Collaboration across networks and leading by influence — increasingly people need the skills to lead across departmental lines by influence rather than authority.
* Agility and adaptability — given the rate of change, today’s job may not exist tomorrow. So, we need people who can learn and change, rather than relying on static technical skills.
* Initiative and entrepreneurship — we need self-directed people who can find creative solutions to difficult problems.
* Effective oral and written communication — without good communication skills, it’s hard to collaborate, influence or lead.
* Accessing and analyzing information — we need to be able to select and process information efficiently and effectively.
* Curiosity and Imagination — we no longer want drones who merely carry out orders. Instead we need employees who participate creatively by adding value to both the process and the end product.

Unfortunately for the employer, you can’t just rely on credentials to ensure that prospective employees have these critical skills. A good transcript from a name brand institution may simply indicate that the person in question has learned how to take tests. In Wagner’s view, these new graduates may have an even bigger problem:

A senior associate from a major consulting firm told me that recent hires from Ivy League business schools were constantly asking what the right answer was — in [other] words, how to get an “A” for the job they were doing — and were not always very adept at asking the right questions, which was the single most important skill senior executives whom I interviewed identified.

As we prepare to integrate Millennial new hires, we’re going to have to be very deliberate in the way we assess their mastery of the 7 survival skills and the way we coach them to improve that mastery. Equally, it would be wise to take a fresh look at the Boomer and Gen X members of your team to see if they have developed and are using these 7 survival skills. The success of your organization depends on it.

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