OECD Skills Studies

2307-8731 (online)
2307-8723 (print)
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There is a shift from formal education to a broader perspective that includes a range of hard and soft skills people need to acquire over their lifetime in order to succeed in the labour market. Workers, students, parents, employers, education providers and government agencies now need reliable information on how supply and demand for skills evolve.

The OECD Skills Studies series aims to provide a strategic approach to skills policies. It presents OECD internationally comparable indicators and policy analysis covering issues such as: quality of education and curricula; transitions from school to work; vocational education and training (VET); employment and unemployment; innovative workplace learning; entrepreneurship; brain drain and migrants; and skills matching with job requirements.

Also available in French
Time for the U.S. to Reskill?

Time for the U.S. to Reskill?

What the Survey of Adult Skills Says You or your institution have access to this content

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12 Nov 2013
9789264204904 (PDF) ;9789264204898(print)

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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 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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  • Foreword

    Not only are skills, including basic literacy and numeracy, critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals, they are also key drivers of economic growth and societal advancement. The OECD’s new international Survey of Adult Skills aims to help countries secure better skills policies by measuring the basic skills of adults in 24 countries and demonstrating how these skills relate to economic and social outcomes.

  • Summary of findings and policy recommendations

    • Low "basic" skills (literacy and numeracy) are more common in the United States than on average across countries. One in six adults have low literacy skills – in Japan the comparable figure is one in 20. Nearly one in three have weak numeracy skills against a cross country average of one in five. Looking at stronger performers, while one in nine US adults score at the highest level in literacy, similar to the cross-country average, only one in twelve score at the highest numeracy level, well below the average. In a new domain designed to assess some skills with modern information and communication technology "problem solving in technology-rich environments" the US results are a little worse than the cross-country average.

  • The Survey of Adult Skills and the role of this special report

    The basic skills of literacy and numeracy are of huge importance to our economies and societies. The OECD’s new Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) assesses skills of literacy, numeracy and a newly assessed domain of "problem solving in technology-rich environments" in a number of countries. This special report, to be published alongside the main international survey, looks at the results for the United States and identifies their policy implications.

  • Basic skills in the United States

    This chapter describes the main findings of the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills for the United States and compares them with the results from a set of key comparison countries. The implications of the results – in terms of labor market outcomes such as employment and wages, and social outcomes such as health and citizenship are considered. Potential explanations for the US results are then assessed in relation to outcomes from basic schooling, age factors, and educational attainment. The characteristics of low-skilled adults are given separate attention.

  • Policy recommendations for the United States

    This chapter assesses the policy implications of the US results. It looks at why action is needed, arguing that the lack of improvement in skills in younger cohorts and the relatively weak performance at the top end of the ability spectrum suggest underlying weaknesses requiring both improvements in initial education and training and effective adult learning interventions. The chapter argues for seven policy recommendations: that concerted action is necessary to address the skills challenge; that substantial improvements are needed in initial schooling, with adequate standards for all; that effective learning pathways should be available for young adults after leaving high school; that programs to address basic skills should be linked to employability; that adult learning programs should be adapted to diverse needs and effectively coordinated with other interventions; that awareness of basic skills challenges should be increased; and that action should be well-supported with evidence.

  • Methodology of the Survey of Adult Skills

    The target population for the Survey was the non-institutionalized population, aged 16 to 65 years, residing in the country at the time of data collection, irrespective of nationality, citizenship or language status.

  • What adults can do at different levels of literacy proficiency
  • What adults can do at different levels of numeracy proficiency
  • What adults can do at different levels of proficiency in problem solving in technology-rich environments
  • Key figures on adult skills in the United States versus other countries
  • Key tables on adult skills in the United States versus other countries
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