21st-century skills are increasingly important, what is not fully appreciated is the extent to which these skills rely upon strong foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Foundational cognitive skills are defined as to understand, use and interpret written and mathematical information. It is difficult to critically evaluate, problem-solve or analyze data without such skills. For young adults graduating from high school and college, it is typically assumed that they have acquired these foundational skills.
Results from large-scale international surveys such as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies tell a different story. PIAAC is an ongoing survey conducted by the OECD that assesses the skills of adults ages 16-65. In its first cycle, conducted in three rounds from 2011–2017, the PIAAC survey measured literacy and numeracy skills and assessed Problem-solving Skills in Technology Rich Environments (PSTRE). It was discovered that 68% of young adults in the United States, or slightly over two-thirds of individuals ages 16-34, performed below the level of literacy needed to correctly complete just half of the PSTRE tasks.