Millennials’ poor technology skills are hurting their employers

by Grace

Millennials’ lack of technological prowess is costing their employers big-time”.

Today’s young adults are establishing their careers, but their lack of technological prowess is costing their employers big-time. Yes, you read that right. In spite of growing up having the Internet in the palms of their hands, these so-called “digital natives” have a yawning knowledge gap that’s not apparent until they get into the office.

“Most Gen Ys grew up accustomed to using social media and texting for communicating and collaborating and haven’t had to use email or spreadsheets extensively,” explains Chris Pope, senior director of strategy at technology services company ServiceNow.

In terms of technology, they lack workplace skills but have mastered social skills.

And unfortunately for them, programs like Outlook and Excel are the technologies most companies in America still rely on to get stuff done. Being able to summon a car, book a table or send a birthday gift with the tap of a finger is great, but this kind of streamlined experience isn’t the norm in most workplaces, and young workers just can’t deal. “Many are only introduced to those tools when they enter the workforce and have to change their natural way of engaging to better match the way everyone else in the enterprise is working,” Pope says. “In many ways, Gen Y have to go backwards to use less efficient technology in the office than they use in their personal lives.”

Millennials are lousy at Google research.

And millennials’ technology problem isn’t limited to functions like emailing and creating spreadsheets. Researchers have found that a lot of young adults can’t even use Google correctly. One study of college students found that only seven out of 30 knew how to conduct a “well-executed” Google search.

“When it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy,” an article in Inside Higher Ed says about the study. “They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources.”

Some of the “most basic information literacy skills” are not being taught in high school, and are apparently not required to get a college diploma.

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies, Asher told Inside Higher Ed in an interview.

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”

Educational institutions are finding that they are enablers in allowing students to do enough to ‘“satisfice” — that is, do what they can to get by and graduate’.


Martha C. White, “This Is Millennials’ Most Embarrassing Secret”, Time, May 4, 2015.

Steve Kolowich, “What Students Don’t Know”, Inside Higher Ed,  August 22, 2011.

2 Comments to “Millennials’ poor technology skills are hurting their employers”

  1. The students we see are not technologically competent at all, but the problem isn’t with Microsoft products. Generally, students come out of high school very adept in Word and Powerpoint because in K12, that is what passes for “computer education”. The real problem is that they don’t understand how any of it functions, which means the instant they are asked to do something that isn’t within Word or Facebook, they are lost. For example, they have no idea how to zip up a group of files, and when I try to show them, it becomes abundently clear that they had no idea that there are such things as “files”, or that files are stored on the computer in a folder, or that you can navigate through the file system. They usually do not understand the difference between the local computer and what they see in the cloud. They have only the vaguest notion of how the Internet works – and that is a huge problem because if I tell them to say enter a URL, they aren’t sure what that is. I suspect this is a lot of what is driving employers bananas. When you are working in a company, things like the location of a key file on the company server is important, and managers don’t think they should have to teach new employees how to navigate a file system, or that you can have a server which can be accessed remotely.

    My university requires that various business, communications, and health care administration students take a course in Excel and Access. I have had the misfortune to have to teach it. Generally, the students all know the basic mechanics of Excel from high school, but they only know it as a way to organize text. The real problem is that they don’t have enough skill in math to use Excel for what it is intended for. Formulas in Excel completely baffle them. I had them do a bunch of business-y problems – computing total sales and profit, stuff like that. I would say that 2/3 of the class couldn’t do those problems because of lack of quantitative reasoning skills. They probably could do the computation on paper, using the memorized formula, but they can’t adapt that to the spreadsheet model. It really confuses them.


  2. “they had no idea that there are such things as “files”, or that files are stored on the computer in a folder, or that you can navigate through the file system”

    Wow. I really question the caliber of students enrolled in college when I read things like this. OTOH, I’ve seen firsthand the lack of good instruction at the K-12 level. They just want to get the students out, and seem happy to graduate them even when they lack skills to do college work. The word “satisfice” applies completely here.


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