Even when mixed with the grim aggregate unemployment data from around the country, rates of joblessness for young people appear particularly dire. While the unemployment rate for the country as a whole continues to bounce between 8.5% and 9.5%, the number of working youth dropped by almost half since 2000 and is now at its lowest rate since 1950.
A recent report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation blames structural economic problems, including the fallout from the 2008 fiscal collapse for the high joblessness numbers. The report speculates that more experienced adults, left out in the cold by employment market shrinkage, are taking unskilled entry level jobs that would have previously gone to young people between the ages of 16 and 24.
However, according to research conducted by McKinsey & Co, the real reason behind this chronic underemployment could be much more complex. According to a graphic published by qz.com, it could be the teachers – or as the McKinsey report calls them, education providers — who are contributing to this problem most by chronically overestimating the skill level of their students, especially compared to how those skills are assessed by potential employers.
While teachers more or less understood which skills employers would value, they had overly rosy view of how well their students had mastered those skills pretty much across the board. In particular, educators think their students are significantly better at problem-solving and more computer literate than potential employers do, and that they have far more hands-on and theoretical training when they graduate from a post-secondary school.
The problem isn’t limited to the United States. McKinsey surveyed teachers, employers and young people in nine countries around the world with chronic youth underemployment and found a similar disconnect between teachers and potential employers when it came to evaluating the skill level of young adults.
The data collected shows that this disconnect is greatest in Brazil and Mexico, although the gulf was almost equally wide in the U.S.
The gap between the views of the skills of the students by teachers and employers was especially broad when it came to evaluating their ability to take instruction, their work ethic, their problem-solving skills and – perhaps not surprisingly – language proficiency. For example, while 83% of teachers and 80% of employers thought that good work ethic was important to the success of young people in the workplace, employers only thought that 65% of the youth seeking employment exemplified that necessary quality, while teachers were more generous, saying that 70% of their students did.
Admittedly, these data are just a piece of the puzzle. Nonetheless, they suggest that educators who want to help their students get jobs in a global economy might need to be more demanding when they assess them.