Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Are Millennials a Lost Generation?

It is an exaggeration to say Millennials are a lost generation. But there is a large segment of Millennials--perhaps even the majority--who missed out on something important when they were growing up. That something is programming literacy, now as critical for success in the job market as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Most are comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, texting, browsing, streaming videos, downloading audios, and shopping online. They are adept at consuming what the Internet has to offer. They are not skilled at producing for the Internet, which is what employers of all sorts now want. To be successful in today's economy, young workers need to know how to build and maintain web sites, how to market products and services through social networks, how to write and edit code. They need to be literate in the theory and practice of programming.

Millennials know they lack these skills. In the American Freshman Survey, UCLA's annual probe into the attitudes of college freshmen nationwide, only 38 percent of freshmen say their computer skills are above average. This is a surprisingly honest assessment from these young adults, 71 percent of whom think they are above average in academic ability and 73 percent of whom think they are above average in their drive to achieve.

How did Millennials miss out on acquiring literacy in programming while surrounded by computers and the Internet? They had the bad luck to be born at the wrong time, raised by parents and taught by teachers who at best knew little about computers and the Internet and at worst were dismissive and fearful of their capabilities. The computer illiterate older generation was incapable of instilling in today's young adults a literacy in programming.   

It doesn't have to be this way. Millennials can acquire literacy, even at this late date. According to the New York Times, when the organization Fix Young America held a summit recently to discuss solutions to high levels of unemployment among young adults, one of the proposals was a massive, nationwide effort to teach young adults JavaScript, a programming language.

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