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Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says
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Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says


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The ‘basic skills’ of literacy and numeracy are among the most fundamental attributes of human beings and their civilization, lying at the root of our capacity to communicate and live and work …

The ‘basic skills’ of literacy and numeracy are among the most fundamental attributes of human beings and their civilization, lying at the root of our capacity to communicate and live and work together, to develop and share knowledge, science and culture. Their contribution to workforce skills have increasingly been recognized as critical to economic success, while evidence on gaps in adult basic skills and the link with economic and social outcomes has also been growing, both at national and international level (e.g. International Survey of Adult Skills of 1994-98 and Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey of 2003-2007). Most tellingly, there has been a belated realization that despite universal basic education in advanced countries, some adults have slipped through the net, leaving them with very weak literacy and numeracy. All of these factors underline the importance of the OECD’s new international Survey of Adult Skills.

This report on skills in the US draws out the policy implications of the Survey for the US, while also making use of some additional data collected for the Survey on the US alone. The study does not directly evaluate relevant US policies and programs – such as schooling and adult education. Instead it identifies in the results of the Survey some key lessons about the strategic objectives and directions which should form a frame for policy development in the US, including policy on adult learning and schooling.

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  • We have got data from a good group of countries in this first report…
  • (1) We found an innovative way to address that with our new Survey of Adult Skills, a first-of-its-kind tool that directly assesses the depth of countries’ talent pools.  Essentially, we went to thousands of homes across 24 industrialised countries and tested people for their skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. And then we linked that information with data on how people use their skills, and what benefits they gain from that.
  • We chose to focus the survey on the ability of people to understand, use and engage with written information; On their ability to use, interpret and communicate mathematical ideasAnd their capacity to use digital technologies and resources to get and evaluate knowledge.
  • The survey covered everyone from 16 to 65 years, so when you look for example at the 25-34-year-olds, they did their high school degree in the early 2000s, and their college degree in the mid 2000sAnd by looking at the skills of older adults, we are also getting an impression of education from the late 60s onwards.
  • If there is one central message from the Skills Survey, it is that what people know and what they do with what they know has a major impact on their life chances, much greater than what we would anticipate from looking at peoples qualifications alone.
  • (2) Here are some results. The first thing we found is that what people know and what they do with what they know has a major impact on their life chances.  You see that highly skilled adults are twice as likely to be employed and almost three-times more likely to earn an above-median salary than poorly skilled adults. In short, poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs. Highly skilled people are also more likely to volunteer, and they see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political process.  People with better skills are even more likely to trust others, so trust isn’t just about how you were brought up or about the people with whom you live, it closely relates to your skills. And that tells us that we can do something about trust by giving people the right skills. And that’s important, because without trust in public institutions, public support for ambitious and innovative policies is hard to mobilise, particularly where we ask people to make short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits. Without trust, citizens and businesses also avoid taking risks, and delay decisions on investment and innovation that are so important.  So in the end, fairness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy all hinge on the skills of citizens.
  • (3) And it works the same way for nations. This chart shows you that greater inequality in skills – here on the horizontal axis - goes together with greater inequality in the distribution of income, on the vertical axis. Think about it, how we distribute skills relates to how the benefits of economic growth are shared.  Of course, there are many ways in which you can enhance social equity; you can use taxes, for example, to take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But that’s all about dealing with the symptoms. What you see here is one of the main sources of inequalities. Where large shares of adults have poor skills, it’s also difficult to introduce productivity-enhancing technologies and new ways of working. And that too stalls improvements in living standards.
  • So lets see where countries stands on this test.DefinitionsThe data from the Russian Federation are preliminary and may be subject to change. Readers should note that the sample for the Russian Federation does not include the population of the Moscow municipal area. The data published, therefore, do not represent the entire resident population aged 16-65 in Russia but rather the population of Russia excluding the population residing in the Moscow municipal area. More detailed information regarding the data from the Russian Federation as well as that of other countries can be found in the Technical Report of the Survey of Adult Skills (OECD, 2013, forthcoming).
  • (4) The case for skills is clear, so how well do nations prepare their citizens? Roughly one in five adults in Japan and Finland perform at the highest levels on our numeracy test. But in Italy and Spain just one in twenty adults performs at that level, and more than one in three perform at or below the baseline level.
  • (5) Some countries do better in literacy than in numeracy, but overall the picture is similar, again, you see Japanese and Finnish adults around 6 years ahead of Italian and Spanish adults. So where you live makes a big difference for your skills.  But I want to bring a second dimension into the picture…
  • …and to do that, I am now going to (6) compress the scale…
  • (7) And then I show you how literacy skills are distributed within each country, that’s the blue bar here. What you see now is that skills gaps within each country are many times larger than the variation across countries. So even highly literate nations have shallow areas in their talent pool. In fact, at least one in ten adults doesn’t make it beyond our baseline level in literacy. Across the 24 countries that took the test, that translates into more than 80 million adults in the industrialised world who don’t read better than a ten-year-old child. On top of that, in countries like the US, Poland, Germany, Italy or England, a difficult social background often translates into poor adult skills.
  • We can look at the skills of nations in more refined ways, looking not just at how countries do relative to each other, but at what exactly adults can and cannot do.
  • (8) We can look at the skills of nations in greater detail, looking not just at how countries do relative to each other, but at what exactly people can and cannot do. Here you can see the share of adults who can use computers to solve basic everyday problems, like navigating a simple web page. And in light green you see adults who can complete computer tasks that involve multiple applications in more sophisticated ways. There is a lot of hype about the digital society, but it seems that just around a third of adults are fully prepared for that.  I know, now you are going to tell me this is just about older people being out-of-date, but even among 16-24-year-olds, there are very significant skill gaps. We even found that just half of university graduates are reasonably comfortable with new technologies.
  • (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.
  • The Skills Survey also shows that, in some countries, migrationbackgrounds also have a major impact on skills, which means that we are not yet good enough at leveraging all of our potential, particularly that of immigrants.
  • Lets look at the performance of adults without an immigrant background first. You can see them here doing quite well in most countries, largely at level 3, in some countries at level 2.
  • If you compare that with the performance of recent immigrants, you can see a big gap in some countries.
  • What is more surprising is that, in countries like Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands or the US even immigrants who have spent 5 or more years in the country don’t do much better, which tells you that time alone does not make the challenges go away.But look at Finland or Sweden here. If you are more than 5 years in these countries as an immigrant, you have a fair chance of moving forward.
  • (10) So the skills of people differ, and the talent pool of nations differs. But these differences are not set in stone.
  • (11) In fact, our data show that some countries have made impressive progress in equipping more people with better skills. You see our literacy scale on the horizontal axis here. The red line here is the average performance of people across countries. The grey line is the performance of 16-24-year-olds and the pink line the performance of 55-64-year-olds. So, generally speaking, youth have better skills than older people. But look at young Korean’s, the yellow diamond here, they do much better than their peers in other countries, while older Koreans are among the three lowest-performers across countries. Every decade, Korea has added the equivalent of two years of education to its entire population.  Spain has moved from poor to adequate, and Finland has moved from good to great.  You can also see good progress in countries like France or Germany.  But then you get to Norway, where the older generation does quite well, but the young fall behind.  And look at the US or the UK. Young Brits and Americans enter a much more demanding job market with similar literacy and numeracy skills than their grandparents have who are retiring. The talent pool in these countries will shrink significantly over the next decades unless these countries succeed to improve schooling and to provide adults with better ways to develop and maintain their skills.
  • (12) And, in fact, that’s exactly what you see here. Among people nearing retirement, more than 40% of the highly skilled are Americans. Among those entering the workforce, it is less than 30%. All this tells you that in a global economy, success is no longer simply about improvement by national standards, but about the fastest improving countries internationally.
  • (13) So how do we develop skills? As you would expect, formal education is the main route to better skills.
  • Adjusted odds ratio of scoring at or below Level 2 in literacy, by respondent’s and parents’ level of education
  • Black and Hispanic adults are substantially overrepresented among adults with weak literacy skills. (as background information: about 13% of adults in the US are black, 15% are Hispanic and 66% are white).
  • Black and Hispanic adults are also over-represented among adults with weak numeracy skills.(as background information: about 13% of adults in the US are black, 15% are Hispanic and 66% are white).
  • Lets look at young people with different types of educational pathways come out, who have upper secondary level as their highest level of attainment. Lets put the average of academic qualifications also on the left side. And now I add the distribution of literacy skills among vocational graduates. What you see clearly is that, in all countries, there is a significant gap in foundation skills between people with academic and vocational qualifications. Minister Hancock asked whether this chart destroys the myth that in Austria and Germany, vocational education attracts the best and brightest. And yes, it does. But you can turn that argument around and say that vocational programmes in these countries start with a lower transversal skill base, but get people highly labour-market relevant qualifications with a good chance to succeed in the labour market, which makes them all the more impressive.
  • Mean literacy proficiency and distribution of literacy scores for adults aged 16 to 29 whose highest level of education is upper secondary, by orientation of education
  • 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.
  • (5) But the difficulty with formal education is also that you get a lot of it at the beginning of your life - maybe more than you want - and very little thereafter.  Let me show you the most depressing results from our skills survey, you see the skills of people on the vertical axis, and their age on the horizontal axis. So this is how the picture looks, for literacy and numeracy skills. And you discover why these results are so depressing when you figure out where you are on this chart. [You too will get to an age where you stop laughing]. You might think that’s all to do with the fact that older generations were not as well educated, or that the social composition of populations has changed. But if you adjust for that, the picture looks actually worse.  Or you might think this is all about biological ageing, we get older and we forget more things and so on. There is some truth in that but our data also show that these curves vary markedly across countries. The Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Canada, for example, have been much better than other countries in making lifelong learning a reality. They’ve developed adult education that is relevant to users and flexible, both in content and in how it is delivered. They’ve made information about adult education easy to find and understand, and they provide recognition of skills that encourage adult learners to keep learning. They’ve also made skills everybody’s business, with governments, employers, and workers all engaged.
  • Adjusted odds ratios of adults participating in adult education and training during year prior to the survey, by level of proficiency in literacy
  • (16) Well, that’s one side of the story, and it’s surely important for a country to have many talented people. But there is another side to it. Skills are only valuable when they are used effectively.
  • 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.
  • 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?”
  • (19) Let me make one final point. We know that women tend to earn less than men, even if they have similar qualifications. People have spent a lot of time speculating about the reasons for that.  We now have the data to better understand this. It’s not about skills, on our skills survey men and women show very similar literacy and numeracy skills.
  • (20) It’s about how men and women use their skills.  On the vertical axis you see the gender gap in hourly wages in different countries. And you can see that gap is substantial in some countries, amounting to 30% or more in Japan or Estonia. On the horizontal axis you see the gender difference in the use of problem-solving skills. And now you can see that differences in the use of problem-solving skills explain half of the gender gap in wages.  And we have been able to look further into what drives that relationship, and found that gender differences in the use of skills are mainly due to the fact that men are more commonly employed in full-time jobs and occupations where skills are used more intensively, even if they aren’t better skilled.
  • (21) This is another piece of evidence that we can – and should – make better use of talent.  And underuse of skills is not just a matter for women, it is also common among young and foreign-born workers and among people employed in small enterprises, in part-time jobs or on temporary contracts.  To do better, we’ll need more coherent, easy-to-understand certifications that aren’t just about degrees, but also incorporate formal and informal learning in life. Where people lack skills, we need better policies that incentivise employees and employers to invest in developing relevant skills.  We need to better integrate the world of learning and the world of work. Workbased learning allows people to develop hard skills on modern equipment and soft skills, such as teamwork or negotiation in a real-world environment. It’s often also a great way to re-engage youth who have lost the interest in education. We also need experts with the latest labour-market intelligence at their fingertips, who guide people to make sound career choices.
  • 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.
  • (22) None of that’s easy, and people sometimes say that changing public policy is like moving graveyards, you just can’t rely on the people out there to help you.  But global comparisons like our Skills Survey show everyone what’s possible. They take away excuses from those who are complacent. And they help set meaningful targets in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world’s most effective policies. The bottom line is that, without data, we are all just people with an opinion. Thank you.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Skilled for Life? Measuring the skills of adults Washington, November 12 Andreas Schleicher ANDREAS SCHLEICHER Special advisor to the Secretary-General on Education Policy Deputy Director for Education and Skills 0
    • 2. Survey of Adult Skills Participating countries 2013 (**see notes A and B in the Reader’s Guide). 1
    • 3. Survey of Adult Skills in brief 166 thousand adults… Representing 724 million 16-65 yearolds in 24 countries/economies … took an internationally agreed assessment… in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Also surveyed were generic skills such as collaborating with others and organising one’s time, and how adults use their skills (**see notes A and B in the Reader’s Guide). 2
    • 4. Age distribution of the Survey of Adult Skills Age range: 55-65 45-54 35-44 25-34 16-24 1968-1977 1978-1987 1988-1997 1998-2007 2008-2016 High-School graduation year University graduation year 1972-1980 1981-1990 1991-2000 2001-2010 2011-2020 4
    • 5. Skills Transform Lives and Drive Economies What people know and what they can do with what they know has a major impact on their life chances SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 5
    • 6. Increased likelihood of positive outcomes among adults with higher literacy skills (scoring at Level 4/5 compared with those scoring at Level 1 or below) Odds ratio 4.5 United States 4.0 3.5 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 Being Employed High wages Good to excellent health Participation High levels of High levels of in volunteer political trust activities efficacy 6
    • 7. Inequality in the distribution of income and literacy skills 0.2 0.22 Average Income inequality (Gini coefficient) Low income inequality High skills inequality Low income inequality Low skills inequality Denmark 0.24 Norway Sweden 0.26 Austria Flanders (Belgium) 0.28 Slovak Republic Czech Republic Finland Ireland Germany 0.3 Netherlands Korea Estonia Average Poland 0.32 Spain Canada Japan Australia Italy 0.34 England/N. Ireland (UK) 0.36 United States 0.38 0.4 High income inequality Low skills inequality High income inequality High skills inequality 1.7 1.65 1.6 1.55 1.5 1.45 1.4 Literacy skills inequality (9th/1st decile) 7
    • 8. The level and distribution of skills differs markedly across countries Much of the variation in skills proficiency is observed within countries, so most countries have significant shares of struggling adults SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 8
    • 9. Skills of adults Numeracy 5th 25th Mean and .95 confidence interval for mean 75th 95th Japan Finland Flanders (Belgium) Netherlands Sweden Norway Denmark Slovak Republic Czech Republic Austria Estonia Germany Russian Federation³ Average Australia Canada Cyprus** Korea England (UK) England/N. Ireland (UK) Poland Northern Ireland (UK) Ireland France United States Italy Spain 240 7 points are roughly equal to one year of education 250 260 270 Score 280 290 300
    • 10. Skills of adults Literacy 5th 25th Mean and .95 confidence interval for mean 75th 95th Japan Finland Netherlands Australia Sweden Norway Estonia Flanders (Belgium) Russian Federation³ Czech Republic Slovak Republic Canada Average England (UK) Korea England/N. Ireland (UK) Denmark Germany United States Austria Cyprus** Northern Ireland (UK) Poland Ireland France Spain Italy 240 7 points are roughly equal to one year of education 250 260 270 Score 280 290 300
    • 11. What adults can do Literacy Japan Finland Netherlands Australia Sweden Norway Estonia Flanders (Belgium) Russian Federation³ Czech Republic Slovak Republic Canada Average Korea England/N. Ireland (UK) Denmark Germany United States Austria Poland Ireland France Spain Italy 1.2 Adults at Level 4/5 can 0.0 •2.3 Perform multiple-step operations to integrate, interpret, or synthesise information from 1.9 complex or lengthy texts that involve conditional 0.0 and/or competing information. 2.2 Adults at • Make complex inferences and appropriately apply Level 1 can 0.4 Adults at Level 3 can background knowledge as well as interpret • Read relatively short digital or print or 5.2 • Understand and respond appropriately continuous, non-continuous, or Adults at Level 2 can evaluate claims 0.0 densesubtle truthtexts. or arguments. mixed texts or more pieces of piece to or lengthy • Integrate two to locate a single 0.6 • Understand text structures and of information. information based on criteria rhetorical devices. 0.3 • Complete contrast or reason about • Compare and simple forms, understand • Identify, interpret, or evaluate one or information and make low-level inferences. 0.9 basic vocabulary, determine the more pieces of information and make • Navigate digital texts to access and 1.2 meaning of sentences, and read appropriate inferences. 0.3 continuous texts with a degree of identify information from various parts of a • Perform multi-step operations and fluency. document. 1.4 select relevant data from competing •Shop assistants, machine operators 0.4 information in order to identify and 1.5 formulate responses. 4.2 •Technicians, Professionals 1.8 0.0 0.5 0.8 0.8 0.7 % 80 60 Level 2 40 Level 1 20 Below Level 1 0 20 Level 3 40 Level 4/5 60 80 No information 13
    • 12. Mean numeracy proficiency in PISA and in the Survey of Adult Skills (20-22 year-olds) Mean reading score in PISA 2006 and literacy score in the Survey of Adult Skills 2012 570 550 + – 530 Canada Average at 20-22 PISA Score Korea Flanders (Belgium) Finland Netherlands Japan Estonia Czech Republic Austria Sweden Australia Denmark 510 Ireland OECD average for PISA 2006 470 450 220 Germany Poland 490 Norway – – Slovak Republic Spain – + United States Italy 240 260 + + 280 300 320 Survey of Adult Skills score 14
    • 13. Problem solving skills in a digital environment Young adults (16-24 year-olds) All adults (16-65 year-olds) Sweden Finland Netherlands Norway Denmark Australia Canada Germany England/N. Ireland (UK) Japan Flanders (Belgium) Average Czech Republic Austria United States Korea Estonia Slovak Republic Ireland Poland % 100 Basic digital problem-solving skills Advanced digital problemsolving skills 80 60 40 20 0 20 40 60 80 100 15
    • 14. Evolution of employment in occupational groups defined by problem-solving skills Percentage change in the share of employment relative to 1998, by occupational groups defined by workers’ average level of proficiency in problem solving (based on 24 OECD countries with 1998 LFS data) % 25 20 Medium-low level of problem-solving 15 10 5 0 Low level of problem-solving -5 -10 -15 -20 Medium-high level of problem-solving 16
    • 15. Successful integration is not simply a matter of time. In some countries, the time elapsed since immigrants arrived appears to make little difference to their proficiency in literacy and numeracy, suggesting either that the incentives to learn the language of the receiving country are not strong or that policies that encourage learning the language of the receiving country are of limited effectiveness Foreign-language immigrants with low levels of education tend to have low skills SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 17
    • 16. Literacy proficiency by immigration background 320 300 280 260 240 220 200 Native-born
    • 17. Literacy proficiency by immigration background 320 300 280 260 240 220 172 200 Native-born Foreign-born - < 5 years
    • 18. Literacy proficiency by immigration background 320 300 280 260 240 220 172 200 Native-born Foreign-born - < 5 years Foreign-born - 5 years and more
    • 19. Some countries have made significant progress in improving skills proficiency SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 21
    • 20. Literacy skills in younger and older generations Average 16-24 year-olds Average 55-65 year-olds UK US Norway Germany France Finland Spain 240 245 250 255 260 KOREA 265 270 275 280 285 290 295 300 Score
    • 21. Adults at Level 4/5 in literacy Those entering the job market Those nearing retirement Denmark, 0.5% Estonia, 0.2% Flanders (Belgium) , 1% million 16-24 yearolds scoring at Level 4/5 7.9 million 55-65 yearolds scoring at Level 4/5 Korea, 1% 12.6 Ireland, 0.2%
    • 22. Formal education is the key to building foundation skills … but more education does not automatically translate into better skills SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 24
    • 23. Likelihood of lower literacy proficiency by education and parental education Odds ratio 11 Respondent's education at least high school, neither parent attained high school 10 Respondent's education lower than high school, at least one parent with high school or higher Neither respondent nor either parent attained high school 9 8 7 Reference group: Both respondent’s and parents’ educational attainment is at least high school 6 5 4 3 2 1 25
    • 24. Race/ethnicity of adults with low literacy skills in the US Below Level 1 Level 1 0 Hispanic 20 Black 40 60 White 80 100 Other 26
    • 25. Mean literacy proficiency and distribution of literacy scores, by educational attainment 25th percentile Mean 75th percentile 100 125 150 175 200 225 250 275 300 325 350 375 400 Score College High school Qualifications don’t always equal skills Japan Lower than high school Level 1 and below Level 2 College United States High school Lower than high school 100 125 150 175 200 225 250 275 300 325 350 375 400 Score 30
    • 26. Success is increasingly about building skills beyond formal education SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 31
    • 27. Literacy skills and age Score 310 Literacy unadjusted 300 Numeracy unadjusted 290 280 270 Literacy adjusted Numeracy adjusted 260 250 240 15 20 25 30 35 40 Age 45 50 55 60 65 32
    • 28. Putting skills to effective use Skills will only translate into better economic and social outcomes if they are used effectively SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 34
    • 29. Labour productivity and the use of reading skills at work 4.6 (log) Labour productivity 4.4 4.2 Slope = 1.118 (0.407) R2 = 0.296 Norway Ireland Adjusted prediction Slope = 1.643 (0.504) R2 = 0.371 4 Spain Italy Netherlands Denmark Germany United States Austria Sweden Australia 3.8 Finland Japan 3.6 3.4 Slovak Republic 3.2 Poland Korea Czech Republic Canada England/N. Ireland (UK) Estonia 3 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 2 2.1 2.2 2.3 Use of reading skills at work 35
    • 30. Use of skills at work Most frequent use = 4 2.4 Average Index of use 2.2 2 Japan 1.8 1.6 United States 1.4 Reading at work riting at work W Numeracy at workICT at work Problem solving at work Least frequent use = 0
    • 31. Equal skills don’t always imply equal opportunities SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 39
    • 32. Gender gap in wages and in the use of problemsolving skills at work Percentage difference between men’s and women’s wages (men minus women) 35 Estonia 30 Japan Korea 25 Czech Republic United States 20 Austria Finland Slovak Republic England/N. Ireland Cyprus1 (UK) Canada 15 Norway Australia Denmark 10 Netherlands Sweden Flanders (Belgium) 5 Poland Spain After accounting for occupations, industry and proficiency Germany Italy Ireland 0 -10 -5 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Percentage difference in the use of problem-solving skills at work (men minus women) 40
    • 33. In Sum • Weak skills more common than on average across countries – 36 million low-skilled adults in the US • Despite high levels of formal education • Few signs of improvement • Performance of initial schooling closely linked to adult skills • Strong influence of socio-economic background • Migration status and ethnicity remain important • • One third of the low-skilled are immigrants 35% of black and 43% of Hispanic adults have low literacy skills, compared with 10% of whites, racial differences in skills remain even among adults with similar qualifications • Strong links to wages and health • 63% of low-skilled adults are in employment, more than in other countries • Participation rates in adult training are higher in the US than in most countries at all skill levels • But those who need training most get the least of it 41
    • 34. Skills are everybody’s business SURVEY OF ADULT SKILLS 42
    • 35. Concerted action Lessons from strong performers • to improve basic skills • to tackle inequities affecting sub-populations with weak skills • Accepting the relative decline in skills would mean accepting relative decline in the economic sphere, but also in other domains that rely on high levels of basic skills – arts, sciences and intellectual innovation .
    • 36. Strengthen quality of schooling Lessons from strong performers • Investing in high quality early childhood education and initial schooling, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds • Support targeted at disadvantage • Successful education systems can tackle the majority of basic skills weaknesses by age 15.
    • 37. Lessons from strong performers Ensure effective and accessible education opportunities for young adults … using strengths of community college system to support and develop basic skills and offer career options. • One third of low-skilled US adults under 35 – potential for greater lifetime impact • Community colleges – an important route back to education, with room for improvement . • .
    • 38. Link efforts to improve basic skills to employability Lessons from strong performers … recognizing that good jobs open up further learning options, while basic skills can often be more readily acquired in practical contexts • Integrating basic skills development with career preparation – promising approach • Both for high school students and adults .
    • 39. Lessons from strong performers Adapt to diversity. Work across all levels of government and across the public and private sectors • Diversity among lowskilled adults, multiple causes – no single solution • Policies must be coherent across different areas • Unmet interest and need: about 3 million lowskilled adults interested in adult education .
    • 40. Lessons from strong performers Build awareness of the implications of weak basic skills among adults. Support action with evidence • Shared understanding of the issues consensus for policies • Raise awareness among the adults concerned and their immediate contacts • Good data key to effective interventions .
    • 41. Find Out More at: All national and international publications The complete micro-level database Email Twitter @SchleicherEDU …and remember: Without data, you are just another person with an opinion 49