28/06/2016 – Poor skills severely reduce a person’s chance of a better-paying and more-rewarding job, and have a major impact on how the benefits of economic growth are shared within societies. In countries where large shares of adults have poor skills, it is difficult to introduce productivity-enhancing technologies and new ways of working, which stalls improvements in living standards, according to a new OECD report.
As part of its ongoing work to measure and improve adult skills around the world, the OECD has tested the skills of more than 50,000 16 to 65 year-olds in Chile, Greece, Indonesia (Jakarta), Israel*, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia and Turkey. The assessments of reading, numeracy and problem solving abilities measure what people know and how they use their skills at work. This builds on the 2013 Survey which tested the skills of more than 150,000 adults in 24 countries**.
Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills finds clear evidence that developing and using skills improves employment prospects and quality of life as well as boosting economic growth. There was a strong link between a country’s performance in the survey and in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15 year-olds, suggesting that high quality initial, compulsory education is essential for countries to build a highly skilled work force.
“Without the right skills, people will languish on the margins of society, technological progress will slow and countries will struggle in the global economy,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, launching the report in Singapore. “Governments must improve their education system and work with business and unions to develop fair and inclusive policies so that everyone can participate fully in society.”
The Survey also shows that proficiency continues to improve over time, and that developing and maintaining skills over a lifetime is affected by participation in work and training. High-quality career guidance services, complemented with up-to-date information about labour-market prospects, are needed, together with effective active labour-market measures, such as counselling, job-search assistance and temporary hiring subsidies for low-skilled youth.
Key findings from the nine countries/economies
Chile (click on country name for detailed findings)
- Younger adults in Chile are more proficient in literacy and numeracy than their older counterparts – by a larger margin than on average across OECD countries.
- Tertiary-educated adults in Chile perform better than their less-educated peers, but their scores in literacy and numeracy are well below the OECD average.
- Gender gaps in Chile, in favour of men, are among the widest observed across OECD countries.
- Some 50% of 55-65 year-olds in Greece did not complete upper secondary education, compared to only 15% of 25-34 year-olds. Yet 25-34 year-olds perform as well in literacy as 55-65 year-olds.
- The share of adults in Greece who score at the highest levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy is considerably smaller than the OECD average, while the proportion of adults with poor skills in literacy and numeracy is much larger than average.
- Greece is one of the few countries where women outperform men in literacy.
- In Jakarta, the difference in proficiency between older and younger adults is one of the smallest across all participating countries/economies. Despite the fact that school completion rates have improved substantially over time (the share of adults without an upper-secondary qualification is 57.2% among older adults and 29.6% among adults aged 25-34), this has not been enough to narrow the gap in proficiency with respect to OECD countries at higher stages of economic development. On the literacy scale older adults score 62.6 points below the OECD average but the gap for younger adults is much larger, at 73.9 score points.
- The dispersion of proficiency scores across adults living in Jakarta is wider than in most other participating countries/economies.
- Gender gaps are large, with men scoring significantly higher than women in both literacy and numeracy.
- In Israel, adults aged 25-34 score less than 10 points below the OECD average in both literacy and numeracy; among older adults, the gap is much larger, at 23 and 17 score points, respectively. As a consequence, the gap between the two age groups is one of the highest among all participating countries.
- While the literacy and numeracy proficiency of adults in Israel is lower than the OECD average, a proportion of adults in Israel similar to that on average across OECD countries perform at the highest levels in literacy and numeracy.
- The association between low performance and parents’ low educational attainment is particularly strong in Israel.
- Adults in Lithuania show above-average proficiency in numeracy and average proficiency in literacy compared with adults in the OECD countries participating in the survey.
- Lithuania is one of the two participating countries where men and women show similar proficiency in numeracy and literacy.
- Young adults in Lithuania have higher proficiency in literacy than on average across all participating countries and economies.
- New Zealand has the highest proportion of older adults scoring at the highest level in literacy (10.6%) across all participating countries, and one of the highest in numeracy (10.9%). Among younger adults, about 20% score at the highest level in literacy, and about 17% in numeracy, also above the OECD average, but by a small margin.
- Adults in New Zealand score above the OECD average in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.
- The differences in skills proficiency related to age, gender, education and social background are less pronounced in New Zealand than in other countries. But sharp ethnic differences, particularly for Māori and Pacific peoples, exist in New Zealand.
- Among Singaporeans nearing retirement, just 2.4% can manage complex texts and just 3.4% can handle tasks involving advanced numeracy skills. But young Singaporeans entering the labour-market boast the highest share of top performers in numeracy among all 33 countries with comparable data.
- Adults in Singapore show below-average proficiency in literacy and numeracy compared to the OECD average, but above-average proficiency in problem solving in technology-rich environments.
- The disadvantage of older adults is partly explained by the higher prevalence of non-native English speakers and by their relatively low levels of educational attainment.
- On average, adults in Slovenia score below the OECD average in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.
- Around one in four adults in Slovenia has poor literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, a slightly larger proportion than the OECD average.
- In Slovenia, rates of completion of secondary education have increased significantly in the past decades. Nine out of ten adults aged 25-34 attained at least upper secondary, compared to only one in three older adults. As a consequence, differences in proficiency between the two age groups are substantial, especially in numeracy, where proficiency of younger adults is essentially in line with the OECD average.
- Compared with adults in the other OECD countries participating in the Survey, adults in Turkey show below-average proficiency in all three domains assessed – literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.
- The gap between the literacy proficiency of 16-24 year-olds in Turkey and the OECD average is smaller than for all the other age groups.
- Gender-related differences in proficiency in information-processing skills are among the largest across all countries and economies surveyed, particularly among older adults.
Notes to editors
* The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and are under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.
** In the first Survey of Adult Skills, released in 2013, around 157 000 adults aged 16 to 65 were surveyed in 24 countries and sub-national regions: 22 OECD member countries – Australia, Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom (England and Northern Ireland), and the United States; and two partner countries – Cyprus*** and the Russian Federation.
***Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.
***Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.