The significance of our Survey of Adult Skills lies in telling us for the first time about the skills that people actually have, rather than just looking at the formal qualifications they attained in the past. Its like a ‘PISA for adults’
You see that highly skilled adults are twice as likely to report good health, or to be employed. You also see that are more likely to trust others, to participate in volunteering activities, that they are seeing themselves as actors rather than objects of political process, and that they are getting much larger wages. In short, poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs but also to effectively participate in our socieities and we can’t develop fair and inclusive policies and engage with all citizens if a lack of proficiency in basic skills prevents people from fully participating in society. And in some countries, the link between better skills and better lives is even stronger, look at the data for the UK, for example.
We have got data from a good group of countries in this first report…
A couple of facts about the survey itself…We have interviewed 166 thousand adults, who were randomly selected from the 24 countries that participated so far.They took an internationally agreed testIn literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skillsAnd we also surveyed their generic skills such as collaborating with others and organising their time; and we looked at adults actually use their skills.
Here is the picture for the results in numeracy. On the horizontal axis you see the score of countries, and 7 points on this scale are roughly equivalent to one year of education.
And here is the same picture for literacy, you see there is some movement, some countries do better in literacy than in numeracy, but overall the picture is rather similar, again, you you can see Japanese and Finnish adults around 6 years ahead of Italian and Spanish adults.But I want to bring a second dimension into the picture……and to do that, I am now going to compress the scale…
(9) Does this matter? Yes, it does. When you look at the evolution of employment by those problem-solving skills, you can see that there has been a significant decline in employment by people with basic problem-solving skills. There has been little change in employment among the low-skilled. But there has been significant growth in employment among great problem-solvers. What you see here is the hollowing out of labour-markets. Those who have great skills are fine, and will be better and better off. The people most at risk are not the poorly-skilled but white-collar workers with so-so-problem-solving skills, because their skills can increasingly be digitised, automated or outsourced. Those at the low end of the spectrum keep their jobs but are seeing declining wages. That's because you cannot digitise your bus driver or outsource your hairdresser to India.
But lets get to some positive aspects, the Skills Survey also shows that some countries have made amazing progress in equipping more people with better skills.
Young Koreans, for example, are outperformed only by their Japanese counterparts, while Korea’s 55 to 64 year-olds are among the three lowest-performing groups of this age across all participating countries. Every decade, Korea has been the equivalent of two years in quality, wihtout raising quantity.The results from Finland tell a similar story. But progress has been uneven. Young Brits and Americans are entering a much more demanding job market with similar literacy and numeracy skills as their compatriots who are retiring. The talent pool in these countries could shrink significantly over the next decades unless urgent action is taken both to improve schooling and to provide adults with better opportunities to develop and maintain their skills
These changes have had major implications on the composition of the global talent pool. Among those nearing retirement, more than 40% of adults are Americans. Among those entering the workforce, it is less than 30%. Korea was not on the map two generations ago. Young Koreans make up 6% of the highly skills talent pool. So the future workforce in the OECD area is going to look very differently than in the past.
But our data also show that more education does not automatically translate into better skills, better jobs and better lives. Actual literacy levels often differ markedly from what formal education qualifications suggest. For example, Italy, Spain and the United States rank much higher internationally in the share of young people with tertiary degrees than in the level of literacy or numeracy proficiency among people that age.
Look at this chart, where you see the middle half of the skill distribution of Italian graduates at different levels. You can see that Italians who did not complete school are not all low skilled. Significant overlap.It is also striking that, on average, young Japanese and Dutch high school graduates easily outperform university graduates in some other countries. In fact, in most countries at least a quarter of university graduates do not score higher than level 2 on our literacy test, and are thus insufficiently equipped for what their jobs demand of them. Conversely, in Australia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway, more than one in four adults without a high school degree have made it to level 3 in literacy, which shows that people can, indeed, recover from poor initial schooling. Surely there are many reasons why skills and qualifications differ; but these data suggest that we may need to update and re-define our education qualifications. Countries like Italy or Spain also need to think whether their universities are telling their students the truth when they are certifying their skills.
Beyond formal education, learning occurs in a range of other settings, including within the family, at the workplace and through self-directed individual activity. For skills to retain their value, they must be continuously developed throughout life.
Average trend scores by age, adjusted for educational attainment and language background, foreign-born adults excluded
So what can we learn form the most successful skills systems. We are at the very beginning with understanding the results from the survey, but some things are apparent.High quality initial education and lifelong learningInvesting in high quality early childhood education and initial schooling, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgroundsFinancial support targeted at disadvantageOpportunities and incentives to continued development of proficiency, both outside work and at the workplace.
Make learning everybody’s businessGovernments, employers, workers and parents need effective and equitable arrangements as to who does and pays for what, when and howRecognise that individuals with poor skills are unlikely to engage in education on their own and tend to receive less employer-sponsored training .
Effective links between learning and workEmphasis on workbased learning allows people to develop hard skills on modern equipment and soft skills through real-world experienceEmployer engagement in education and training with assistance to SMEsStrengthen relevance of learning, both for workplace and workers broader employability .
Allow workers to adapt learning to their livesFlexibility in content and delivery (part-time, flexible hours, convenient location)Distance learning and open education resources .
Identify those who can benefit from learning mostDisadvantaged adults need to be offered and encouraged to improve their learningForeign-language migrantsOlder adultsShow how adults can benefit from improved skills, both economically and socially .
Improve transparencyEasy-to-find information about adult education activitiesCombination of easily searchable, up-to-date online information and personal guidance and counselling servicesLess educated workers tend to be less aware of the opportunitiesRecognise and certify skills proficiency .
All this said, skills are only valuable when they are used effectively, and the Skills Survey shows that some countries are far better than others in making good use of their talent. While the US and England have a limited skills base, they are extracting good value from it. The reverse is true for Japan, where rigid labour-market arrangements prevent many high-skilled individuals, most notably women, from reaping the rewards that should accrue to them. At times, over-reliance on qualifications also makes it harder for those who have the right skills, but who did not have the same access to education as others, to gain entry into jobs where those skills can be put to full use. The data show that this is particularly true among migrant workers.
Definitions Overqualification: A worker is classified as over-qualified when the difference between his or her qualification leveland the qualification level required in his or her job is positive.Underqualification: A worker is classified as under-qualified when the difference between his or her qualificationlevel and the qualification level required in his or her job is negative.Required qualification: Based on respondents’ answers to the question “If applying today, what would be the usualqualifications, if any, that someone would need to get this type of job?”Over-skilling in literacy, numeracy or problem solving: When a worker’s proficiency is above the maximum required by his or her job.Under-skilling: When a worker’s proficiency is below the minimum required by his or her job.Skill requirements: The minimum and maximum skill levels required correspond to the minimum and maximumobserved proficiency of workers who answer negatively to the questions: “Do you feel that youhave the skills to cope with more demanding duties than those you are required to perform inyour current job?”; and “Do you feel that you need further training in order to cope well withyour present duties?”
Does skill match matter? This chart shows that it does. You see that people who use their skills more, produce more per hour worked. In fact, differences in the average use of reading skills explain around 30% of the variation in labour productivity across countries. Interestingly, our data show that some less-proficient workers use their skills even more intensively than more proficient workers do. Under-use of skills is particularly common among young and foreign-born workers and among those employed in small enterprises, in part-time jobs or on fixed-term contracts. And it shows in their wages.
Gender differences in the use of literacy and numeracy skills are partly due to the fact that men appear to be slightly more proficient but also that they are more commonly employed in full-time jobs, where skills are used more intensively.
Notes : The gender gap in wages is computed as the percentage difference between men's and women's average hourly wages, including bonuses. The wage distribution was trimmed to eliminate the 1st and 99th percentiles. Adjusted estimates are based on OLS regressions including controls for average literacy and numeracy scores, dummies for highest qualification (4), occupations (9) and industry (10). Lines are best linear predictions. The sample includes only full-time employees. Standard errors in parentheses.
GuidanceTimely data about demand for and supply of skillsCompetent personnel who have the latest labour-market information at their fingertips to steer learnersQualifications that are coherent and easy to interpret .
Flexible labour-marketsLabour-market arrangements that facilitate effective skill use and address skill mismatchesEncourage mobility to optimise skill match .
Help employers make better use of workers skillsFlexible work arrangements that accommodate workers with care obligations and disabilitiesEncourage older workers to remain in the labour marketEncourage employers to hire those who temporarily withdrew from the labour market .
Help economies move up the value chainGovernments can influence both employer competitiveness strategies and product-market strategies, which determine in what markets the company competesStrengthen 21st century skillsFoster entrepreneurship.
Skilled for life - Results from the survey of adult skills
(**see notes A and B in the Reader’s Guide).
(**see notes A and B in the Reader’s Guide).
Evolution of employment in occupational groups
defined by problem-solving skills
Low level of
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