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Do Younger Generations Have a Communication Problem?

In general writing skills are on decline, but the trade-off may be a more collaborative, creative and effective workplace.

With a nearly 40% increase in the number of college degrees conferred between 2001 and 2012, Gen Y has the highest level of educational attainment of any previous generation.[1] There was a surge in college-preparatory programs available to Gen Y during their childhoods, and these programs paid off in terms of college enrollment and graduation rates. Also in 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, launching a new era of standardized testing and standards-based education. The Educational Testing Service became a key resource for assessing the performance of our students compared to students around the world. Below is an excerpt from their 2015 report:

“...these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at Gen Y overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.

· In literacy, U.S. Gen Y scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only Gen Y in Spain and Italy had lower scores.”[2]

The emphasis on standardized test performance over traditional research papers has resulted in less writing practice at the K-12 levels. But some of these changes are also based on corporate feedback. When Generation X entered the workforce, companies complained to schools that young people were not being trained to work in teams or make presentations. School systems worked hard to remedy this situation, resulting in students who do more work in groups and present their final deliverables as a team Power Point or Prezi rather than as an individual, written, research paper. Therefore the new generations are extremely talented using more visual media than previous generations.

Generations Y and Z may not have been trained with the same emphasis on spelling and grammar as previous generations, but they are often gifted at creating attractive and compelling presentations in ways previous generations are not. With most software already having spell check and grammar check, the ability to make an interesting and engaging presentation is arguably becoming more critical than the ability to spell. While Gen Y and Gen Z may not be ideal to meet the communication needs of older generations, they are often more skilled for the future demands of communication with their own generations, which are rapidly becoming the largest customer base for many companies.

The communication skills of the younger generations aren't so much a problem as they are a reaction to the world's rapidly evolving media and communication needs.

Leverage these skills. Use Gen Y to develop attractive videos and Prezi presentations. Let them work and present in teams. Tap into their experiences to guide your social media presence and campaigns. And as Gen Z enters your workforce, leverage their natural abilities and experience with social media and video to prepare compelling and engaging presentations for your next generation of customers.

Your new customers will also be more interested in attractive and interactive communication than they will be in spelling and grammar. With an average attention span of eight seconds for adults in North America (which is one second shorter than a goldfish’s[3]) nobody is actually reading your documents, anyway.

[1] (unattributed) National Center for Education Statistics [] para. 2. October 2015

[2] Goodman, M., Sands, A. and Coley, R. “America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future.” Educational Testing Service. January 2015. P. 4

[3] Gausby, Alyson, “Attention Spans, Microsoft Canada.” Spring 2015.

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