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 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.



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.


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