Fifty-nine percent of young professionals are very confident in their knowledge of soft skills, including critical thinking skills—yet according to a new national study from edtech firm MindEdge Learning, this confidence is woefully misplaced.

The second annual State of Critical Thinking study, commissioned by MindEdge and conducted by ResearchNow, found that a majority of those surveyed could not pass a basic, nine-question test of their digital literacy and critical thinking skills. Fully 52 percent of the survey sample—college students and recent graduates, aged 18 to 31—failed to answer more than five questions correctly.

The proportion of respondents who received an “A,” by answering eight or nine questions correctly, now stands at just 19 percent—down from 24 percent in 2017. The low scores posted by recent college grads stand in sharp contrast to the group’s professed confidence in their critical thinking abilities and related “soft skills.”

Recent graduates also report strong confidence in their knowledge of hard skills such as computer programming, IT, and analytics; while 33 percent report they are “very” confident in these skills. And three-of-four (74 percent) say that their college education taught them the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

According to 2018 results, 64 percent of respondents get their news from social media, up from 55 percent in 2017

With just 30 percent of the group reporting that they read a verified news source (e.g. a newspaper) on a daily basis, the likelihood of coming across fake or inaccurate information online is high. And while almost all young people (94 percent) believe critical thinking is important in assessing websites and online content, only 40 percent of them are very confident in their own skills.

“Despite a reported increase in soft skills confidence, our research finds that there is still a large—and growing—digital skills gap among millennials entering the workforce,” said Frank Connolly, director of communications and research at MindEdge, in a news release. “Unless corrected, this skills gap can only have a negative impact on career growth and long-term success as our workplaces become increasingly digitized.”

Other key survey findings include:

Young people think the fake news problem has gotten worse in the past year, and that politicians are to blame

More young professionals are reading news content online: 64 percent receive news from social media platforms and 50 percent get their news from print or online newspapers. At the same, 48 percent of young adults also believe that the problem of online fake news problem has worsened over the past year.

When it comes to assessing blame for the proliferation of bad information online, 24 percent of respondents blame politicians who claim negative stories about them are “fake news.” Another 21 percent blame websites that promote false content to advance a political or ideological agenda.

Despite the perceived increase in fake news, today’s recent graduates are more confident in their ability to discern false information online. In 2017, 35 percent were very confident that they could discern fake news; this proportion has increased to 40 percent in 2018.

Recent grads fault Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica data breach

When it comes to online content and personal data, young professionals are placing blame on the social media giants. Taking into account the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data scandal, 54 percent of recent grade blame Facebook for the misuse of personal data, while just 29 percent blamed the analytics firm. An additional 12 percent of respondents reported that they are unsure who is to blame in personal data breaches like this one.

New workforce entrants are confident in their own soft skills—but less confident in their peers’ skills

Young professionals believe that an equal mix of hard and soft skills is a key to success at work or on a job interview. While they are generally confident in their soft skills, respondents identified the following skills as their weakest:

  • Negotiation – 31 percent
  • Creative thinking – 25 percent
  • Communication – 15 percent
  • Critical thinking – 12 percent

Despite confidence in their own skills, only 57 percent of respondents say that their peers and colleagues are well-trained in critical thinking, far lower than their confidence in their own skills. But they also believe that soft skills can be learned, with 87 percent believing that people can improve upon their own soft skill set. 

MindEdge’s State of Critical Thinking study was conducted online during the first two weeks of April 2018. The sample included 1,002 U.S. residents ages 18 to 31. The survey was conducted online between March 29 and April 10, 2018. The survey results have a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent, at a 95 percent confidence level.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders.

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