The United States doesn’t have as many highly skilled adults as other countries, but younger generations could break the trend.
The Survey of Adult Skills, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found the U.S. falls short on levels of skilled workers compared to other developed countries.
Of the 24 countries surveyed, the U.S. was ranked 16th, and the majority of workers only possessed low-level skills, which include literacy, problem-solving and information and communication technology, according to the study.
UF education professor Dorene Ross said many educational factors can affect someone’s achievement later in life. One of the main problems she saw was the inequality in education due to economics.
“If you are living in poverty, you are dealing with a wide variety of social and environmental threats that affect the achievement of kids in school,” she said.
About 21 percent of workers are overqualified for jobs, and about 13 percent are underqualified, according to the study.
Legislators have been implementing policy changes in the U.S. to aid the job market by attempting to produce better workers. There have been pushes toward vocational schools and incorporating more on-the-job training into learning.
Ross agreed education should be improved but said certain policies won’t work. The focus on testing and merit-based pay for teachers, in her opinion, isn’t the way to go.
“There seems to be an assumption that teachers and kids are holding back,” she said. “But teachers are teaching the best way they know how, and children are learning the best way they know how.”
People with lower skill levels tend be in poorer health, participate less in civic activities and to trust others less, according to the study.
Younger generations are less hindered by their socioeconomic backgrounds than older generations. U.S. adults aged 16-65 had the strongest correlation between literacy rates and economic background, but that dropped to about average when looking at 16-24 year olds.
Rachel Werk, a 19-year-old UF neuroscience and English junior, said she thinks furthering education could improve someone’s abilities, but with some qualifications.
“It’s a double-edged sword, really,” she said, “because we’re learning all these things at school but not necessarily putting our skills to work.”
A version of this story ran on page 5 on 10/11/2013 under the headline "US adults lower skilled than other countries’"