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Building Skills for All in Australia

Policy Insights from the Survey of Adult Skills

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Australia’s overall performance in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) ranges from average to very good. However, three million adults, representing one-fifth of the working age population, have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. Building Skills for All in Australia describes the characteristics of the low-skilled and discusses the consequences that low skills have on economic and social development for both individuals and Australian society. The review examines the strengths of the Australian skills system, highlighting the strong basic skills found in the migrant population, widespread proficiency in use of ICT and the positive role of workplaces in skills development. The study explores, moreover, the challenges facing the skills system and what can be done to enhance basic skills through education, training or other workplace measures. One of a series of studies on low basic skills, the review presents new analyses of PIAAC data and concludes with a series of policy recommendations. These include: increasing participation of women in STEM fields, addressing underperformance of post-secondary VET students and preventing drop-out, improving pre-apprenticeships, enhancing mathematics provision within secondary education and tackling poor access to childcare facilities for young mothers.

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Numeracy skills are not as good as literacy skills in Australia

Australians have among the best literacy skills compared with other countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). At the same time, their performance in numeracy is only average and there is evidence suggesting that numeracy skills have been declining in recent years. Mathematics performances among students in secondary education could usefully be improved. But this chapter also points to a significant gender difference in numeracy performance, with women scoring lower than men and being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. Policies to attract and retain more women in the STEM workforce would help to reduce occupational segmentation in the labour force and improve gender equity in labour market outcomes.

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