copy the linklink copied!4. Improving learning participation of adults with low skills

More than one in ten adults in Finland have low basic skills. Employment opportunities for this group have shrunk over the past decades, highlighting the need to upskill for an increasingly knowledge-driven economy. However, Finnish adults with low basic skills are half as likely to train as those with higher skill levels. There is an urgent need to review where the current adult learning system falls short in engaging low-skilled adults and find targeted solutions for this group. This chapter first provides an overview of adults with low skills in Finland, their training participation patterns and the learning provision available to them. It then highlights the key reasons behind low participation, challenges for engaging the group in learning and outlines possible policy responses.

    

copy the linklink copied!Introduction

Finland has the largest participation gap between adults with low basic skills and those with higher skill levels amongst all OECD economies. This is of concern as the employment opportunities for low-skilled adults are shrinking. According to data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, two-thirds of new job opportunities in the past five years were generated in high skilled occupations. At an individual level, the lack of engagement in upskilling or reskilling decreases the employability of adults with low skills by putting them at risk of job loss or limiting their chances of finding employment. It can therefore lower their incomes and well-being. This also has implications for the economy as a whole, including lower tax revenues, higher benefit expenditure, decreased productivity, slower technology adoption and consequently decreased competitiveness (Woessmann, 2016[1]).

Supporting adults with low skills to upskill or reskill is therefore an economic imperative for a future of work that is more inclusive and productive. Barriers to accessing learning provision are already low in Finland, with much of the provision being offered for free or at a low-cost to the individual, delivered flexibly and in principle being open to adults at all skill levels, raising the question of what more can be done to engage adults with low skills in learning. This chapter discusses where the challenges lie in engaging adults with low skills in Finland, including a lack of outreach activities, targeted and comprehensive information, and guidance services, as well as the need for specific training provision for this target group. It makes recommendations on how to tackle these issues drawing on international good practices.

In this chapter, all data refers to adults with low basic skills. When this is not available, data on adults with low qualifications are used (for definitions see Box 4.1). Key challenges and recommendations are equally valid for both groups.

copy the linklink copied!
Box 4.1. Defining adults with low skills

There are many different ways to define adults with low skills. In this report, adults with low basic skills refer to individuals with low proficiency in literacy, numeracy or both. For the purpose of international comparisons, OECD PIAAC data are used where adults with low skills are defined as those aged 25-64 who scored at Level 1 or below on the literacy or numeracy dimensions of the assessment. These are adults, who at most understand brief texts on familiar topics and/or are able to do simple mathematical processing such as one-step calculations or simple percentages.

Adults with low qualification levels (aged 25-64) are those whose highest educational attainment level is at most lower secondary education (ISCED 0-2). In the Finnish context, these adults have left education after compulsory comprehensive school or earlier. Given the importance of qualifications in the Finnish labour market, having low qualifications puts individuals in a vulnerable position.

The group of adults with low basic skills and those with low qualifications are not identical, but overlap. For instance, some adults with low qualifications may actually have good levels of basic skills. By contrast, some adults with higher qualifications may have low levels of basic skills, because of skill depreciation or poor quality of their initial education. Irrespective, both low-qualified and low-skilled adults are strongly exposed to the consequences of changing demand for skills in the labour market, increasing the need for them to upskill or reskill to stay in employment.

Source: Musset, (2015[2]), “Building Skills For All: A Review of Finland. Policy Insights on literacy, numeracy and digital skills from the survey of adult skills”, http://www.oecd.org/finland/Building-Skills-For-All-A-Review-of-Finland.pdf; OECD (2019[3]), “Getting Skills Right: Engaging low-skilled adults in learning”, http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/engaging-low-skilled-adults-2019.pdf.

copy the linklink copied!The current situation

To improve the engagement of low-skilled adults it is essential to analyse their participation patterns and understand who they are, what kind of learning they already participate in, their reasons for non-participation and what education provision is available to them.

Profile of adults with low basic skills in Finland

Finland has one of the lowest shares of adults with low basic skills across OECD economies, second only to Japan. Around 12% of the 25-64 year old population have low literacy, low numeracy skills or both (Figure 4.1).These are adults who can at most complete very simple reading tasks, such as reading brief texts on familiar topics, or mathematical tasks, such as simple processes involving counting, sorting, basic arithmetic operations and understanding simple percentages (OECD, 2019[3]). Low basic skills in literacy and numeracy tend to go together: 7% of adults score low in both dimensions in the PIAAC survey (i.e. nearly 60% of the low-skilled adult population), while 3% display low basic numeracy and 2% low basic literacy only.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.1. The share of adults with low basic skills is comparatively small in Finland
Adults age 25-64 with low basic skills in literacy and/or numeracy, 2012/2015, %
Figure 4.1. The share of adults with low basic skills is comparatively small in Finland

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Belgium refers to Flanders, United Kingdom refers to England and Northern Ireland only.

Source: PIAAC (2012, 2015).

Socio-demographic background

Who are these adults with low basic skills? First, it is important to note that a low level of basic skills does not automatically mean that an individual also has weak occupational skills, or low qualifications. Only around one-third of Finnish adults with low skills have low qualifications; half of them hold an upper-secondary qualification, while more than one in ten holds a tertiary qualification (

These shares are higher than in other Nordic countries. As numeracy and literacy are becoming increasingly important for carrying out work and for continuous learning; many of these individuals may not be able cope with the ongoing changes in the labour market despite their higher qualification levels (Musset, 2015[2]). Looking at demographic variables (Figure 4.2), adults with low basic skills are more likely to be older and/or a non-native Finnish speaker than adults with higher level skills. More than half of adults with low basic skills are above the age of 55 and hence likely to have completed school before the fundamental reform of the initial education system in the 1970s (Pareliussen, 2016[4]). The gender composition of the group is relatively balanced (more so than in other countries), the share of low-skilled men is only slightly higher than the share of low-skilled women. Some 44% of those with migrant background have low basic skills (or at least when tested in Finnish) and they make up 13% of all adults with low basic skills. The strong impact of migrant status, language background and age on proficiency in basic skills is confirmed by a large body of research (see e.g. Flisi et al (2018[5]), OECD (2018[6]), Sulkunen and Malin (2018[7])). This highlights the importance of providing language and basic skills training to immigrants as well as up-skilling opportunities for older adults.

Socio-economic background is strongly associated with skill levels in Finland; the strongest association across all Nordic countries (Norden, 2015[8]). Around 70% of adults with low basic skills have parents who hold at most lower secondary qualifications, compared to 57% of adults with low basic skills in other Nordic countries (Figure 4.2). The impact of parental background on skill levels has increased over time and is more pronounced in younger cohorts (Musset, 2015[2]). This may point to systemic issues related to social mobility.

Adults with low level of basic skills also earn less on average than their higher skilled counterparts. 18% of them earn at most two third of the national median wage (considered low income), which is slightly higher than in other Nordic countries (Figure 4.2). This makes training costs and forgone wages a more important barrier for them, underlining the importance of financial support for both direct and indirect costs of training when targeting this group.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.2. Adults with low basic skills are typically older, from low socio-economic background and/or migrants
Adults age 25-64 with selected characteristics by skill level, Finland and other Nordic countries, 2012, %
Figure 4.2. Adults with low basic skills are typically older, from low socio-economic background and/or migrants

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC; parents with low qualifications refers to neither parent having attained upper secondary or post-secondary education; low-qualified refers to at most holding a ISCED Level 0 2 qualification; low income relates to earnings that are at most two thirds of the national median wage; migrant background refers to being a first and second generation immigrant; Nordic countries refer to Denmark, Norway and Sweden without Finland. The low-income variable is expressed as share in the employed population.

Source: PIAAC (2012).

Labour market situation

The majority of adults with low qualifications in Finland are employed (53%), while 8% are unemployed and 39% are inactive (Figure 4.3). Adults with low skills are less likely to have a job than their higher skilled counterparts: only 53% for adults with lower secondary educational attainment are employed compared with 73% for those with upper secondary qualifications, and 86% for those with tertiary qualifications. This employment gap across qualification levels is relatively high compared with other Nordic countries. However, the incidence of temporary work for Finnish adults with low qualifications is similar to that for those with medium or high skills (11% and 12% respectively).

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.3. A high share of adults with low skills are inactive
Low qualified adults age 20-64 by employment status, 2018, %
Figure 4.3. A high share of adults with low skills are inactive

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC.

Source: Labour Force Survey (2018).

Compared to other Nordic countries or the OECD average, a considerably larger share of adults with low basic skills are inactive. PIAAC data confirms that 27% of them are retired or on early retirement, while 10% are out of work due to a permanent disability. However, inactivity due to caring and domestic responsibilities is relatively low; less than 2% compared with 4% in Nordic and 14% in OECD countries. This highlights the importance of taking health and mental health issues into consideration and the need to provide complex services in order to overcome obstacles in the way of training participation.

Adults with low basic skills in Finland typically work in smaller, private sector companies. Only 28% are employed in the public sector, compared to 34% of adults with higher skills, while 36% work at micro enterprises (less than 10 employees) compared with 25% of higher skilled adults. Self-employment is also more frequent amongst adults with low basic skills (16% vs. 12% respectively) (Figure 4.4) and, according to Labour Force Survey data, this share has increased over time. Therefore, to reach adults with low basic skills, policies should pay special attention to workers in micro, small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.4. Adults with low level of basic skills tend to work at smaller private sector companies
Employed adults age 25-64 with selected characteristics by skill level, Finland and other Nordic countries, 2012, %
Figure 4.4. Adults with low level of basic skills tend to work at smaller private sector companies

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Nordic countries refer to Denmark, Norway and Sweden without Finland. SMEs refer to small and medium enterprises (below 250 employees). Jobs with high risk of automation are jobs where more than 70% of the tasks performed are automatable.

Source: PIAAC (2012).

Adults with low basic skills in Finland are over-represented in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and some of the services industries (transportation and storage or accommodation and food), which feature more manual and routine jobs. They are underrepresented in public services, in particular in the areas of education and public administration (Figure 4.5). Additionally, more than half of this group works in lower level occupations (blue collar or elementary occupations) compared with only a quarter of adults with higher-level basic skills. It is therefore not surprising that their job’s risk of automation is close to three times higher than that of adults with higher-level skills (14% and 5% respectively). This highlights the need for upskilling and reskilling of this target group to ensure their employability in the future.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.5. Low-skilled adults are overrepresented in sectors with more manual and routine jobs
Adults age 25-64 working in different sectors by skill level, Finland, %
Figure 4.5. Low-skilled adults are overrepresented in sectors with more manual and routine jobs

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Industry categories are created by grouping the respective ISIC categories.

Source: PIAAC (2012).

copy the linklink copied!
Box 4.2. Profile of adults with low educational attainment compared to those with low basic skills

Adults with low educational attainment make up 11% of the Finnish population, a similarly large share as the low skilled (12%). Their characteristics are also very similar with a few exceptions. Based on PIAAC data, a higher share of adults with low educational attainment tend to be older men, whose parents only have low education attainment. The most striking difference is the low share of immigrants among adults with low qualifications, which is only 5% compared with 13% for the share of adults with low basic skills. This is not significantly larger than the share of migrants in the general population (3%).

Employed adults with low educational attainment are even more concentrated in the private sector, blue collar or elementary jobs. In line with this, an even higher share of this group have jobs with a high risk of automation than adults with low basic skills (18% vs 14%). A main difference between the two groups is employment in public-services (education, health and public administration), where an even lower share, only 8% of low-qualified adults work compared to 23% of those with low basic skills. This is likely due to qualification playing a bigger role in the public sector as an entry requirement. According to LFS data, the employment rate of adults with low educational attainment decreased over the past decades, especially among the younger cohorts, which further signals the importance/need of upskilling.

Learning participation of adults with low basic skills

At 31%, job-related learning participation of adults with low basic skills is relatively high in Finland by international standards. However, it lags behind participation in the Nordic neighbour economies Denmark (33%), Norway (40%) and Sweden (32%). Furthermore, at 31 percentage points, the participation gap between adults with low basic skills and their higher skilled counterparts is the largest across OECD economies (Figure 4.6). Looking at differences across types of learning (formal, non-formal, and informal), it emerges that the difference is the largest in the area of formal education. Given the low participation of adults with low basic skills, the current continuous learning system further widens the skill gap that exists at the end of initial education.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.6. Participation gap between low and medium/high skilled adults is largest in the OECD
Adults aged 25-64 who participated in job-related education and training in the past 12 months, 2012/2015, %
Figure 4.6. Participation gap between low and medium/high skilled adults is largest in the OECD

Note: Participation in formal or non-formal adult education. Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Belgium refers to Flanders, United Kingdom refers to England and Northern Ireland.

Source: PIAAC (2012, 2015).

Of the large share of adults with low basic skills who do not participate in training, one in six people were willing to participate in training, but did not for various reasons (Figure 4.7). The share of those willing but unable to train is lower than in other Nordic countries, suggesting that barriers for those interested in education and training are relatively low. However, it should be noted that the share of those who neither take part in education and training nor are willing to take part – 61% of all adults with low basic skills – is much higher than in Denmark (55%), Norway (50%) and Sweden (50%).

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.7. Many adults with low skills neither participate nor do they want to
Adults aged 25-64 with low skills who participated in job-related education and training in the past 12 months, 2012/2015, %
Figure 4.7. Many adults with low skills neither participate nor do they want to

Note: Participation in formal or non-formal job related adult education. Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Belgium refers to Flanders, United Kingdom refers to England and Northern Ireland.

Source: PIAAC (2012, 2015).

While learning participation is lower, adults with low basic skills tend to take part in longer non-formal education and training programmes compared with higher skilled adults. When they participate they do so for an average of four weeks per year (154 hours), which is close to double the time spent in non-formal education by their medium/higher skilled counterparts, according to PIAAC data. At the same time, job-related learning makes up a smaller share of their training time: 43% compared to 75% of adults with medium/high skill levels.

Reasons for participation in learning

The top three reasons for participating in learning are the same for adults with low basic skills or with higher levels of basic skills. Yet, there are some differences: adults with low basic skills are less likely to participate in learning to increase their knowledge and skills in a topic of interest or to do their job better. They are more likely to participate because they are obliged or out of fear of losing their job (Figure 4.8). These differences highlight a lower engagement of adults with low basic skills in learning, which must be taken into account when designing programmes or services for them.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.8. Many adults with low basic skills participate in learning because they have to
Main reason for participating in learning by skill level, Finland, %
Figure 4.8. Many adults with low basic skills participate in learning because they have to

Note: Low-skilled refers to adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Reasons for participation in formal or non-formal adult education for job-related reasons in past 12 months.

Source: PIAAC (2012).

copy the linklink copied!
Box 4.3. Some approaches to explain the low willingness to train among adults with low skills

It is a key question why adults with low skills so rarely take up learning opportunities. Barriers to adult education participation can be categorised into structural (e.g. lack of appropriate opportunities), physical or material (e.g. costs, time or information) and attitudinal barriers (e.g. lack of motivation) (Hillage and Aston, 2001[9]). The academic literature provides the following explanations for attitudinal barriers, i.e. the lower willingness of adults with low basic skills to train:

  • Undervaluing the benefits and overvaluing the costs of education: They may underestimate the potential increase in earnings, overvalue the costs of studying (e.g. cognitive effort, fees, forgone earnings) or discount the future too much. This leads to lower perceived returns to education. They also tend to disregard indirect benefits of additional education such as wider networks, and an improved ability to take care of their own health, cope with changes and manage risks. (Lavecchia, Liu and Oreopoulos, 2015[10])

  • Negative experiences encountered in initial education: Experiences such as failing in a subject or feeling inferior to classmates can stick with individuals even in adulthood building up a fear of learning. This lowers individuals’ confidence in their own abilities to perform well in an academic context, which is strongly correlated with worse educational outcomes and lower persistence in education (Semmar, 2006[11]). Negative attitudes and low motivation are strongest towards formal and classroom-based education, but can even spill over to informal opportunities specifically designed for them.

  • Group dynamics or network effect: They are typically surrounded by other adults with similar skill levels and with similar attitudes towards education and training. This can have a negative effect on their training choices and further contribute to low willingness to participate (Veronica McGivney, 1993[12]). By contrast, knowing someone who participated in adult learning increases one’s self-efficacy and willingness to participate (Goto and Martin, 2009[13]).

Learning participation of workers with low basic skills

When in employment, adults with low basic skills in Finland participate more in education and training and the gap with the higher skilled is lower (22 percentage points). Moreover, their participation is very similar to that observed in Denmark and even slightly higher than in Sweden (Figure 4.9).

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.9. The participation rate of low-skilled employed adults in Finland is comparatively high
Employed adults age 25-64 who participated in job-related education and training, by skill level, %
Figure 4.9. The participation rate of low-skilled employed adults in Finland is comparatively high

Note: Adults in dependent employment, excluding self-employed; formal or non-formal adult education; low-skilled defined as adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC; Belgium refers to Flanders, United Kingdom to England and Northern Ireland.

Source: PIAAC (2012, 2015).

One of the reasons for the relatively high participation of workers with low skills in Finland may be that they benefit from comparatively strong financial support from employers for training. According to PIAAC data, 89% of adult learners with low basic skills state that they have their employers pay their course fees in full. This is a considerably higher share than in Norway (78%) or Sweden (81%). Meanwhile the gap between adults with low basic skills and their higher skilled counterparts is lower than in other Nordic countries (Figure 4.10).

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.10. Employers in Finland frequently cover training cost of adults with low basic skills
Employed learners age 25-64 who reported that their employer paid course costs entirely, by skill level, %
Figure 4.10. Employers in Finland frequently cover training cost of adults with low basic skills

Note: Adults in dependent employment, excluding self-employed; formal or non-formal adult education; low-skilled defined as adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC; Belgium refers to Flanders, United Kingdom to England and Northern Ireland.

Source: PIAAC (2012, 2015).

Learning participation of unemployed adults with low skills

When unemployed, adults with low educational attainment participated less often in training-related ALMPs (self-motivated studies, vocational labour market training, work and education try out, job rotation and job search training) than higher qualified adults. They are far more likely to participate in rehabilitative work-experience, a measure typically aimed at the long-term unemployed to prevent disabilities and adapting work places to illness, injury or impairment (Figure 4.11).

An analysis of the labour market outcomes of participants shows that adults with low skills achieve the best results when participating in job rotation (fixed-term substitution of employees on job alternation leave). 59% of low-skilled adults are in employment three and six months after the end of programme participation, yet the overall share of low-skilled adults participating in the measure is low (1.2%). Relatively good labour market outcomes are also achieved by adults with low skills participating in vocational labour market training (31% are employed 3 or 6 months after participating). By contrast, self-motivated studies record the worst results (15% in employment following participation). Nearly twice as many adults with low skills participate in self-motivated studies than in labour market training. This highlights the relative importance of engaging adults with low skills in shorter labour-market relevant learning opportunities, although it should be noted that the existing data does not show a causal impact of participation on employment outcomes.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.11. Adults with low basic skills do not participate in the ALMPs that yield the best outcomes for them
Figure 4.11. Adults with low basic skills do not participate in the ALMPs that yield the best outcomes for them

Source: Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (2019), Tuomaala (2018[14]), “Aktiivisilta työvoimapoliittisilta palveluilta avoimille työmarkkinoille sijoittuminen”.

Guidance and learning provision for adults with low basic skills

Given the universal and open nature of the Finnish adult learning system, adults with low skills have access to much of the adult learning provision outlined in Chapter 3. Adults with low skills have access to the same advice and guidance services as the general population. Partly as a result, there is very limited specific learning provision targeted at adults with low basic skills. However, low literacy proficiency and lack of learning skills constitute barriers to learning for this target group. Many may need to boost their basic skills first in order to take advantage of upskilling and reskilling opportunities for the general population. Finland is in the process of developing more comprehensive services for adults with low basic skills to cater to their specific needs.

Learning provision for adults with low basic skills

As discussed in Chapter 3, formal education in Finland is typically free or low-cost regardless of age. Several courses in formal education have the potential to attract and serve adults with low skills. Adults can complete comprehensive or upper secondary education and retake individual subjects to improve their grades. Taking VET degrees is open and free of charge for adults who completed primary and lower secondary education. However, entry to university level education is very competitive and typically out of reach for adults with low skills or low qualifications, although participation in Open University courses provides an entry route to university education for those without formal qualification.

Adults with low basic skills or educational attainment can also participate in Adult Liberal Education. Participation is voluntary; there are no entry requirements or prerequisites. Adult Education Centres provide recreational courses (such as cooking or photography) or lectures in certain topics (such as history or technology) based on learner interest. The offer increasingly includes courses to develop basic and job-related skills for specific target groups. For example, learning opportunities include basic digital skills for the elderly, such as on the use of smartphones, and the Adult Education Centre of Helsinki is experimenting with delivering basic skill training to a wider target group (i.e. reading, writing, basic numeracy and digital skills). In some cities, adult education centres were also assigned the role of providing language training for migrants. Participants in liberal adult education are often older, including retirees. As around half of the low skilled or low qualified are above the age of 55, liberal adult education may be an effective way to reach out to this group.

Job-related non-formal training of adults with low basic skills or low qualifications can also be initiated by employers or the public employment centre. As smaller companies are less likely to offer staff training opportunities (see Chapter 3), adults with low basic skills are in a disadvantaged position. On the other hand, joint purchase training (Yhteishankintakoulutus) can be a very relevant opportunity for this group. Tailored training can provide partially funded training to retrain employees. One target group of “change training” (MuutosKoulutus) is staff that is on the verge of redundancy, which overlaps to some extent with low-skilled jobs held by workers whose skills are obsolete. However, these streams currently provide training only to relatively few adults per year.

There is no countrywide programme in Finland that is targeted at improving the basic skills and learning motivation of adults with low basic skills. The NOSTE programme was one such programme, but it was discontinued in 2009 (Box 4.4).

copy the linklink copied!
Box 4.4. Basic skills training for adults

The NOSTE programme was implemented by the Ministry of Education and Culture between 2003 and 2009. It aimed to raise the educational attainment of adults without secondary education who were already in the labour market. The project was developed by the Finnish Parliamentary Adult Education and Training Committee based on prior analysis of the Finnish labour market and the situation of adults with low educational attainment. The goal was to improve the labour market prospects of this group by providing an opportunity to: attain a vocational upper secondary qualification or specialist vocational qualifications; undertake IT training; or finish initial education. An important project feature was to link education to the work environment.

Participation was free of charge apart from examination fees. The total budget was EUR 124.5 million. The programme was delivered in the form of 59 regional projects provided by a network of various education institutions (vocational adult centres, folk high schools, upper secondary schools, job centres etc.). Outreach was identified as an important feature to increase the motivation of the target group. An overarching campaign was coordinated by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) using around 10% of the total funds. In addition, teachers and programme coordinators also promoted the programme through, for example, company visits. Over the implementation period, the programme attracted 25 680 participants who gained almost 20 000 qualifications, reaching 73% of its initial target. The evaluation of the project found that it improved self-esteem and work motivation, but this failed to improve labour market outcomes (e.g. higher wages, new positions etc.). The programme increased awareness about the importance of adapting educational programmes to the low qualified and cooperation between stakeholders.

The Young Adults’ Skills Programme (NAO) was implemented between 2013-16 by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The target group of the programme was young adults aged 20-29 who did not have an upper secondary qualification, although between 2015 and 2016 the programme was also available to older adults. Education was provided at existing institutions using work-based methods and guidance and counselling. It also included outreach activities. The total budget was EUR 183 million to train around 4 000 people per year. The programme is considered successful in reaching the target number and reaching vulnerable groups.

Source: Ministry of Education and Culture (2010[15]), “Noste Programme 2003-2009 Final Report”, https://minedu.fi/en/publication?pubid=URN:ISBN:978-952-485-909-7; Antikainen (2014[16]), “NOSTE-programme for low-skilled adults”, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291818132; Ministry of Education and Culture (2017[17]), “Education guarantee and Young Adult´s Skills Programme (NAO) in Finland 2013-2018”; Hyvönen (2016[18]), “Key findings and further development of the Young Adults' Skills programmes in Finland”, https://epale.ec.europa.eu/fi/node/20740”.

Advice and guidance services for adults with low basic skills

Advice and guidance on career and training choices for adults is primarily delivered by educational institutions, Public Employment Services and some specialised services that provide wrap-around support for specific target groups.

15 regional Employment and Economic Development Offices (TE Offices) deliver services to job-seekers (employed or unemployed) and employers in 120 branches across Finland. Registration with the PES is a precondition for receiving unemployment benefit or social assistance. Employment and business services are organised around three service lines for registered jobseekers: i) employment and entrepreneurship; ii) skill development; and iii) supported employment. Adults with low basic skills or qualifications are typically assigned to the second and third service lines as they are in need of education, training or rehabilitative work. When adults with low basic skills access services at the TE office, they first get profiled based on an online tool and interviews, where their individual situation is assessed. There is no direct testing of skill levels. All individuals receive a personal development plan that has to be agreed between the jobseeker and the TE counsellor. There are periodical checks by the caseworker to follow up on the progress of the clients after three and six months of the initial interview. These can be undertaken in-person, by phone or video link (Finn, 2016[19]). However, the caseload of TE counsellors is very high, typically leaving very limited time per client and not always the time to regularly check-in on them.

The Finnish public employment service also provides services for some disadvantaged groups in the form of Multi-Sectoral Joint Services (TYP) Centers. Across Finland 34 such centres provide complex services under one roof with the cooperation of the Municipalities, the Public Employment Service (TE) and the Social Insurance Institution (KELA). These include health care, social and rehabilitative services together with support entering the labour market. The target group is the long-term unemployed with some exceptions (e.g. young adults below 25, who are unemployed for more than 6 months). As almost half of low-skilled and low-educated adults are inactive, these centres have the potential to cover a significant share of the group. There is no active outreach activity carried out by the centres themselves. Instead, the TE refers clients to the TYP centres, where following an intensive mapping phase of maximum 3 months, each of the clients receive a personalised multi-sectoral employment plan agreed between the jobseeker, the TE and the municipal social worker (if assigned to the case). This plan clarifies the tasks and responsibilities of the different agencies. According to the MoEE between 2016 and 2018 an average of 19 000 adults were enrolled in multi sectoral joint services per year (Finn, 2016[19]).

Municipalities have also introduced specific multi-service centres for migrants, such as the Helsinki Skills Center (Stadin osaamiskeskus). Similar centres exist in other bigger cities such as Vantaa, Espoo, Turku and Tampere. Here, public employment services (TE office) work together with the municipality to streamline provision that results in more effective integration. The goal is to find well-matched jobs for the clients or, if not possible, help them enrol in education. Activities start with mapping the skills and qualifications of the clients through interviews and then drawing up personalised integration and learning plans. The clients can be referred to language training, basic skill training, vocational education or job coaching. Support is available in multiple languages such as Arabic, Somali or English. All immigrants over 17, who are registered with the TE office as jobseekers living in the Helsinki area can access the services. Clients are typically referred from the TE offices with few exceptions (one ESF-funded programme run by the centre targets stay at home parents). The centre started operating in 2016 and serves around 1 000 clients annually. (City of Helsinki, 2018[20]; Winsten, 2019[21]).

Ongoing experimentation to improve service provision

In order to conduct the basic income experiment, the Finnish government adopted a law in 2017 that allows for experimentation in developing better public services. Increasing the culture of public sector innovation overall was an explicit goal of the outgoing government. Experimental Finland (Kokeileva Suomi) was established in 2016 as part of the Prime Minister’s Office to spread this approach. Since then many experiments have been put in place, including in the area of adult education with special attention on those with low basic skills (Prime Minister’s Office, 2019[22]).

The ESF-funded Taito programme aims to improve basic skills (literacy, numeracy, digital skills) of those with low levels of skills, and thus help them advance in education and training and in working life (OECD, 2019[23]). This programme is composed of multiple small-scale projects selected by the Ministry of Education and Culture for the purpose of experimentation and to understand which ones are the most effective (EAEA, 2017[24]). These projects aim to improve skills of students, as well as different groups of adults, e.g. migrants, inactive, low qualified. These are implemented by different stakeholders such as universities, research organisations, associations or education centres. Some examples targeted at adults include developing an effective tutor model, creating a toolkit for improving basic skills at the workplace or developing a model to map basic skills. As part of the project, the TAIKOJA network coordinates between projects, collects good practices and finds ways to incorporate these into the educational structure. This network is managed jointly between the Häme University of Applied Sciences, Omnia, the OK Study Centre and the University of Tampere (TAIKOJA, 2019[25]).

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has been implementing a number of experiments to test different tools or service delivery methods. Regional Employment Trials were implemented at eight different locations, covering around 45 000 jobseekers, to improve PES services and increase employment levels. The reason for implementing the trials was partly to prepare for the planned regional government reform (which did not pass); therefore, municipalities typically had a central role. Good practices included increased collaboration between stakeholders at the local level, more personalised support for job seekers, more intensive case-management or the use of new digital devices. These practices were then reused when designing the new TE Service Pilots. These new pilots can be grouped in two main categories. One is to provide better services for businesses, including recruitment and training practices (e.g. establishing a Knowledge Profiling Platform that identifies ICT skill needs). The second is to improve services for people in vulnerable positions (e.g. the disabled). The pilots are based on cooperation between ELY Centres, TE Offices, KELA, education providers, associations and companies to ensure smooth service provision. The outcomes will be evaluated in 2020/2021 (Tiina Korhonen, 2018[26]; Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, 2019[27]).

copy the linklink copied!Key challenges

The comparatively large inequality in participation in Finland between adults with low basic skills and those with higher skills suggests that there are some structural issues holding back participation of adults with low skills. Barriers to accessing learning provision are already low in Finland, with much of the provision being offered for free or at a low-cost to the individual and delivered flexibly. After careful analysis of the Finnish system and the characteristics and needs of adults with low basic skills the following key challenges emerge: i) gaps in the provision of comprehensive advice and guidance services; ii) lack of targeted education provision; and iii) limited outreach activities.

Adults with low basic skills need more comprehensive advice and guidance services.

Low skilled adults face more complex obstacles to participation than their higher skilled counterparts do. Data shows that the primary obstacle to training participation for adults with low basic skills is lack of time due to work (18%) and family (12%) responsibilities (Figure 4.12.). Compared with medium or higher skilled adults in Finland, those with low skills face less work-related and more family-related obstacles. This may be linked to the fact that a higher share of them are not in employment. It can also be more difficult for them to outsource domestic responsibilities (e.g. cooking or childcare) due to a relatively low income. As demonstrated earlier, many low-skilled adults are also low wage earners. It is not surprising that the lack of financial resources constitute a key obstacle for 9% of adults with low-skills, much higher than for those with medium/high skills (2%). They tend to have less savings and can expect limited support from their families.

Compared with other Nordic (and even more so OECD) countries, low-skilled Finns are more likely to list lack of employer support or prerequisites as barriers to participation, which may point to issues regarding flexibility of continuous learning in working life. Individuals with low basic skills often have lower bargaining power vis-à-vis their employers. Their work is more easily substitutable and employers are afraid of their workers being poached once they invest in their skill development. The Finnish working-life barometer confirms this lower training investment by employers; there is a 30 percentage point participation gap between white-collar and lower-skilled manual workers.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.12. Barriers to participation differ between low and higher skilled adults
Reasons for not participating in learning for those who wanted to participate, Finland and Nordic countries, %
Figure 4.12. Barriers to participation differ between low and higher skilled adults

Note: Formal or non-formal adult education in the past 12 months; low-skilled defined as adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC; Nordic countries refer to Denmark, Norway and Sweden without Finland.

Source: PIAAC (2012).

Around one third of adults with low basic skills claimed that they did not participate due to ‘other reasons’, which points to the diverse set of obstacles they face. Such additional reasons can be fatigue, not finding appropriate opportunities, health problems or fear of failure. According to the Adult Education Survey, 24% of adults with low qualifications in Finland reported health or age as a reason for not participating in adult education. This is in line with other findings that adults in Nordic countries face fewer situational (e.g. lack of time) and institutional (e.g. lack of prerequisites or high fees) barriers than in other countries (Roosmaa and Saar, 2017[28]).

The above-mentioned barriers exist on top of any barriers related to navigating the education and training system. Information is fragmented and understanding the rules around financial support can be challenging for many. Lower literacy proficiency makes it more difficult to process and analyse the vast amount of information available and to make good training decisions (OECD, 2019[3]). Those, who do not participate in education often have little or low knowledge about available opportunities. Many for example believe that education is always formal, inflexible, exam-oriented and classroom-based. This highlights the need for guidance services for this group. Another characteristic of adults with low basic skills in general is that they tend to face multiple barriers at the same time (as opposed to higher skilled people, who can typically pinpoint one) and what is deterring them is the cumulative effect of these (Pennacchia et al., 2018[29]). Comprehensive advice and guidance services that address the complex barriers of adults with low-skills are therefore critical to engage them in training. However, there are currently a number of gaps in the provision of these services in Finland.

Career guidance opportunities for low skilled adults in working life are limited. Adults with low basic skills might not be able to benefit fully from written and online resources (due to the lack of literacy or digital skills), and may need more in-person support. However, adults typically only get in touch with guidance services in TE offices once job-loss has already happened. Meanwhile career guidance services for the employed that could help to navigate the educational opportunities are limited, raising efficiency concerns. The current high client per caseworker ratio at TE-offices is especially problematic for disadvantaged groups, such as adults with low basic skills who need more encouragement, information and face-time (Windisch, 2016[30]). Guidance can also be offered at the workplace, but adults with low basic skills, who are typically in jobs with little development opportunities, are not likely to have access to such support.

Services that intend to provide comprehensive solutions for the complex barriers of this group are not available for all adults with low skills. One-stop shops were introduced to provide integrated and tailored information and guidance for youngsters and migrants (Ohjaamo, Stadin osaamiskeskus), however these target groups constitute less than 20% of low-skilled adults in Finland. Multi-service centres for long-term unemployed also cover a considerable share of adults with low basic skills, although individuals have to spend 12-month in unemployment before having access to such services. Counselling at TE offices tend to focus only on labour-market related issues instead of having the systematic overview that multi-service centres provide. An important challenge remains how to establish multi-service centres in smaller cities.

Targeted education provision for adults with low skills is lacking.

The Finnish continuous learning system is designed to be universal, open and permeable. In principle, adults with low basic skills or qualifications can take part in many of the formal and non-formal courses as well as in employer-provided training. However, adults with low basic skills do not always have the necessary basic skills to undertake such training. Specific competencies such as literacy are needed to generate new ones through learning (Desjardins, Rubenson and Milana, 2006[31]). For example to retrain as a nurse, they would probably need higher literacy and numeracy skills than Level 2.

Therefore, the strong and increasing focus on formal education may deter adults with low basic skills from participating. Having to participate in lengthy – often classroom-based studies – can be perceived as a large time and resource investment that sets a high threshold for participation. In fact, data shows that adults with low basic skills are more than three times less likely than those with high skill levels to participate in formal education (5% vs. 16% respectively). This is larger than the participation gap for non-formal education (29% vs. 66% respectively) (Figure 4.13.). Interestingly, even when educational leave and financial support are both available (such as during self-motivated studies supported by the adult education allowance), the take-up of formal education by adults with low skill levels is low (Kauhanen, 2018[32]). This signals that there are some specific features of formal studies that deter adults with low basic skills from participating, which is especially problematic in Finland where participation in formal education is highly valued.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.13. Very few Finnish adults with low basic skills take part in formal education.
Adults age 25-65 who participated in different types of learning by skill level, Finland, %
Figure 4.13. Very few Finnish adults with low basic skills take part in formal education.

Note: Low-skilled defined as adults scoring at level 1 or below in literacy and/or numeracy in PIAAC. Low qualified refers to those, whose highest educational attainment is ISCED Level 0-2. Formal and non-formal learning participation is the sum of both learning activities (adults who participated in both are counted only once).

Source: PIAAC (2012).

The flipside of the universal and open nature of Finnish adult learning provision is that it rarely targets specific population groups directly. In contrast to many other OECD economies, there is currently no countrywide programme that aims to increase learning motivation of adults with low basic skills and to systematically support them in the acquisition of basic skills. Yet, the evidence suggests that adults, in particular those with low basic skills, need education opportunities that are tailored to their specific learning needs, because they learn differently than children and young people. They learn best when learning is practical, problem-oriented and contextualised, i.e. linked to experiences in an adults’ work or personal life such as calculating prices at the supermarket (Windisch, 2016[30]; OECD, 2019[3]). Following from this, the lack of shorter, job-related and recognised adult learning provision in Finland is likely to deter many adults with low basic skills from engaging in continuous learning activities.

Outreach activities to engage adults with low-skills in learning are limited.

Even if appropriate education opportunities are available, adults with low basic skills might not take them up. One of the key reasons behind this is lack of awareness of their learning needs. Research suggests that adults compare their skill levels with a ‘local standard’, i.e. those of their colleagues, friends and family surrounding them, making it more difficult to recognise where their skills fall short (Finnie and Meng, 2005[33]). Moreover, as weak basic skills such as literacy problems often have a stigma attached to them, adults can be reluctant to reveal their lack of skills or express interest in learning opportunities in this area (Windisch, 2016[30]). Indeed, adults with low qualifications are generally far less likely to search for information on learning opportunities than those with medium or higher qualifications. While the share of adults with low qualifications looking for information is highest in Finland out of EU countries, they still do so far less than adults with higher qualifications (Figure 4.14). This highlights the need for targeted outreach activities for adults with low basic skills.

copy the linklink copied!
Figure 4.14. Adults with low skills are less likely to seek out information on learning opportunities
Adults age 25-64 who searched for information on learning opportunities, by educational attainment level, 2016, %
Figure 4.14. Adults with low skills are less likely to seek out information on learning opportunities

Note: Search for information on learning possibilities by type of learning and educational attainment level. Low qualifications refer to ISCED 0-2, medium to ISCED 3-4 and high to ISCED 5-8.

Source: Eurostat, Adult Education Survey (2016).

As the Finnish adult learning provision is universal and open to adults with all skill levels in principle, it is often seen as being the choice of individuals to seek out and participate in learning activities. Therefore, outreach activities are not structurally embedded across the Finnish labour market. Guidance and education institutions do not get specific funding to conduct outreach and rely on referrals from other institutions, e.g. the PES. Exceptions exist, for example the Helsinki Skills Centre, which reaches out to stay-at home parents with migrant background in community spaces, such as butcher shops. Similarly, the Ohjamoo centres intend to set-up mobile counselling services in shopping malls in the future. The evaluation of the programme underlined the importance of the personal contact for its success (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2010[15]).

copy the linklink copied!Policy recommendations and good practices

The Finnish adult education system must recognise and cater to the specific needs of adults with low basic skills to increase their participation in learning. To overcome the key challenges, Finland should consider: i) providing comprehensive information and guidance services; ii) developing tailored education programmes; and iii) reaching out to adults with low basic skills.

Some of the recommendations would require additional funds. Reallocation of some of the general funding for adult learning to activities for adults with low basic skills would improve efficiency. Introducing additional funding streams such as training levies could also be considered.

Provide comprehensive information and guidance services

copy the linklink copied!
Recommendations

Currently, information and guidance that helps adults with low basic skills to overcome the multiple barriers they face to learning is not comprehensively available. To ensure that all adults with low basic skills can up-skill continuously, Finland could benefit from:

  1. 1. Further developing one-shop-shops that provide comprehensive advice and guidance;

  2. 2. Strengthening the capacity of TE offices.

Further develop one-stop-shops that provide comprehensive advice and guidance

Adults with low basic skills need assistance in addressing their often cumulative barriers to training participation, such as funding, childcare or health issues. Information and guidance is most effective when all information can be accessed under one roof and is tailored to individual circumstances. Finland should consider expanding such services for all adults with low basic skills, building on the positive outcomes of one-stop-shops and multi-service delivery for migrants, youth and long-term unemployed individuals. Rather than introducing specific one-stop-shops for adults with low-skills, consider whether these services can be streamlined to prevent further fragmentation of the advice and guidance system.

Any future development must be informed by the experience of existing one-stop shops in Finland (e.g. Ohjaamo, Helsinki Skills Centre, Multi-service delivery to long-term unemployed) as well as the outcomes of ongoing experiments (TE Service Pilots). Challenges include: the coordination of different information systems in multi-service delivery; aligning approaches and working-culture of individuals from different service-delivery backgrounds; outreach to involve underserved groups of the population; and the need for the involvement of health services to serve disadvantaged target groups.

Important lessons can also be drawn from other OECD countries looking to streamline advice and guidance services and to provide one-stop-shop solutions for this target group:

  • Provide high quality guidance: In Iceland demand for career development for employed adults has been growing in recent years. Public Employment Service offices provide free career guidance to all adults, while advice at regional Lifelong Learning Centres is also available for all, although only fully funded for the low qualified. There are a dozen of Lifelong Learning Centres around Iceland including in sparsely populated areas. The strength of these centres is considered to be their highly qualified staff who typically hold degrees in education and vocational counselling and as a result are able to tailor the services to each client. Apart from knowledge about labour market needs and education opportunities, counsellors are trained to provide comprehensive guidance on financial and health issues amongst others. The centres are accredited through the European Quality Mark (EQM) system, which was developed through an EU funded projects in cooperation with countries and local stakeholders. The centres apply for funding annually regarding their specific measures (e.g. career guidance, development of job standards or educational pathways). The annual cost of career guidance provided at the centres for low-qualified adults was approximately ISK 134 million (equivalent to EUR 1 Mio.) for around 10 000 sessions in 2016 (Ministry of Education Science and Culture Iceland, 2018[34]; OECD, 2019[3]).

  • Expand free counselling services: In Austria career information services are available to all adults seeking advice. The Bildungsberatung Österreich offers independent and free counselling for adults on education and training opportunities. The service is implemented in all Austrian federal states and specifically targets adults with disadvantages in the labour market, including the low-skilled, older adults, inactive and adults with a migrant background. Depending on the federal state, advice and guidance services are provided in a range of modes, including face-to-face, on the phone or online via skype or chat. To open the service to individuals with migrant background the service is provided in 16 languages, although not all languages are spoken in every location. Since 2012, more than 100 guidance practitioners have been trained and qualified to provide advice. The project is financed by the ESF and the Austrian Ministry of Education.

A key question in the Finnish context is how to bring such complex services to smaller cities and sparsely populated areas in a cost-effective way:

  • Provide mobile services: The Brussels-based project Formtruck is a walk-in mobile information centre on training opportunities. It aims to engage low-qualified jobseekers and young people not in employment, education or training. Since its introduction in 2017, it has been used around 20 times per year, although there are no evaluations on the effectiveness of this approach. Mobile outreach services have the possibility to reach those adults with low skills such as long-term unemployed who have very limited links to workplaces or the community. It can also be helpful in delivering services in rural areas in a cost-effective way.

Strengthen the capacity of the TE-offices

Currently, public employment services are one of the key entry points for adults with low skills who seek employment and career advice. However, TE-offices are struggling with the high caseload of their counsellors and lack capacity to provide comprehensive advice and guidance service for this target group. In the early 2010s, TE-offices were reorganised involving significant staff cuts. Since then much of the interaction with TE-clients has shifted to email or phone contact. While the move towards digital and distance services is progressive in principle, it may not be the most appropriate form of interaction with this target group. It makes it more difficult to assess the real situation of this specific target group, e.g. in the case of health or behavioural issues that are not easily detected without face-to-face contact.

Finland should strengthen the role of public employment services and recognise their importance as a first port-of call for significant shares of adults with low-skills. This will require significant financial investments and reversing some of the financial cuts the PES has experienced over the past decade.

Develop tailored education programmes

copy the linklink copied!
Recommendations

Finland should consider the introduction of a targeted programme to improve the learning motivation and the skill levels of adults with low basic skills. To be successful, the programme must be easy to access, low cost or free of charge, not too time intensive and provided flexibly outside working hours. Some stakeholders suggest that the Liberal Adult Education system may be well placed to deliver such programmes, making use of their well-known brand, nation-wide coverage and strong links with the local community. Other options include the provision of contextualised learning of basic skills, for example in the workplace. To ensure that education opportunities are relevant and useful for adults with low skills, Finland could benefit from:

  1. 1. Developing a programme of short courses that aim to improve motivation towards learning;

  2. 2. Contextualising the learning activity.

Develop a programme of short courses that aim to improve motivation towards learning

Shorter courses that are adapted to adults with low skills are currently lacking from the menu of Finnish continuous learning provision. Even the discontinued NOSTE programme that was developed specifically for adults with low qualifications provided longer, typically formal educational opportunities with 6 months of average duration, while evidence underlines that adults with low-skills are less willing to participate in time-intensive training than high-skilled individuals (Fouarge, Schils and de Grip, 2013[35]).

Short ‘taster’ courses can provide an entryway for adults with low skills to rekindle their interest in education. To counter potential negative education experiences of the target group, courses should move away from some features of the initial education system and adapt provision to adults. As developing an adult learner’s sense of confidence and competence is crucial, programmes should improve motivation and curiosity without putting too much emphasis on measuring learning outcomes with grading or exams, which entail the possibility of failure (O’Neill and Thomson, 2013[36]). Adults with low skills tend to learn better when the learning content is hands-on and problem-oriented and show greater motivation for topics that they see to be relevant and useful in daily activities (e.g. health, parenting or everyday finances) .

Some OECD countries have introduced specific education offers for adults with low skills:

  • Establish a positive attitude to learning: In Hungary, a network of Open Learning Centres provide low threshold training opportunities for adults with low basic skills or competencies. Centres are at accessible locations and designed to have a relaxed atmosphere. They are equipped with modern digital devices such as digital boards, smartphones and laptops, that can be used by people who walk-in. The learning centres offer educational opportunities in different topics, all of them are 20-30 hours long. Topics include household economics, green energy in everyday life, effective self-management or the role of women in the 21st century. The curriculum and learning materials were developed by experts, and designed specifically for adults with low basic skills. The teaching methods put emphasis on respecting and involving the participants through discussions and group exercises, which help to develop social and communication skills. Cooperation is favoured over competition; participants are encouraged to help each other outside of the courses and there are no grades or examination at the end. Centres can also create additional learning opportunities depending on the needs and interests of the community in the form of courses or even discussions and lectures. The overall goal is to increase motivation towards education and create a culture of curiosity and self-development. Since the programme in 2012, more than 10 000 people participated in the learning activities of the centres. As the model was designed to operate in a cost-effective way with low operational costs, some of the centres are in small villages (OECD, forthcoming[37]).

  • Ensure quality of basic skill programmes: The Austrian Initiative Adult Education was introduced in 2012 to enable individuals to obtain basic competences (literacy, numeracy) and educational qualifications (typically primary or lower secondary) free of charge. Only those education providers can apply for funding whom the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education accredits. The observed quality aspects are; adaption of courses to the needs of adults, course quality and qualification of trainers and counsellors. The approval also depends on the needs of the region to create a balance between the various courses. In addition to education, the initiative also provides support services such as professional counselling (looking holistically at the life situation of the individuals), an introduction phase and the individualisation of the learning offer. The programme is based on a cooperation between the federation (Bund) and the federal states (Bundeslaender). It is funded by a mix of national and ESF funds. Between 2012-2017 approximately 50 000 individuals participated in the measure. The initiative is now in its third programming period (Jenewein, 2018[38]; Steiner et al., 2017[39]; Steuerungsgruppe Initiative Erwachsenenbildung, 2019[40])

Contextualise the learning activity

In the delivery of a potential ‘taster’ learning programme for adults with low basic skills, Finland should consider linking the programme to everyday aspects of adults’ lives, such as the workplace, or a community.

  • Combine basic skill training with job-related content: With the majority of low-skilled adults in employment, one key option is to embed delivery in the workplace. A good practice in this area is the Norwegian Skills Plus Work programme, which provides grants for enterprises that train their employees by combining job-related with basic skill training with basic skills training while at the same time strengthening the worker’s motivation to learn. The programme concentrates on reading, writing, numeracy and digital skills, and more recently oral communication. Firms work with providers to create basic skill programmes in these domains tailored to the needs of both the employers and the employees. Overall guidance is available on how to set up such programmes in the form of learning materials and national standards. The programme is open to both private and public companies and there is special effort to encourage SMEs and applications from industries that tend to have a higher share of low-skilled workers. The programme is funded by the Ministry of Education and Research and is administered by the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning (Kompetanse Norge). It is considered an expensive but successful programme in reaching individuals who otherwise would not participate in learning activities (OECD, 2019[3]).

  • Making use of the family context: There is also growing evidence of the positive effects of family literacy programmes on adult participants’ self-efficacy and social capital, although more research on the long-term impact is needed to prove long-lasting benefits (Windisch, 2016[30]). The Austrian Mum is learning German! (Mama lernt Deutsch!) takes place in the child’s educational institution and includes free childcare services, while parents learn or go on excursions to cultural, social and leisure institutions together. Data is not available on student performance, but there is positive outcome in terms of school climate and school-parent communication and the programme is widely accepted among headmasters, teachers and parents (OECD, 2018[6]).

Reach out to adults with low basic skills

copy the linklink copied!
Recommendations

Even where appropriate learning opportunities exist, adults with low skills might not take them up. They need more encouragement and awareness raising through outreach activities, however such activities are not structurally embedded in the Finnish system. To ensure that more adults with low skills find and participate in the appropriate training opportunities, Finland could benefit from:

  1. 1. Reaching out to adults with low skills;

  2. 2. Improving the understanding of the target group by collecting and analysing data.

Reach out to adults with low skills

Research evidence suggests that active and direct outreach is essential to successfully engage adults with low skills in learning, as public awareness campaigns have proven ineffective for this target group (OECD, 2019[3]). Outreach involves the provision of mobile services, awareness raising and referral to existing stationary services. It meets the underserved population of adults with low basic skills in their regular environment, such as their workplace or community.

To date, adult learning provision in Finland has devoted limited attention and resources to outreach, apart from the NOSTE programme. Some isolated good examples also exist such as the KYKY programme of the Helsinki Skills Centre. Finland should draw on domestic experience that proved to be effective:

  • Provide information and encouragement in person: The NOSTE programme dedicated 10% of the funds on outreach activities. Awareness raising took place in radio advertisements, through online articles and a printed Nosetta magazine. The programme also had a truck that did road shows around Finland, promoting the programme. Apart from the centralised outreach activities, teachers and coordinators also allocated some of their time to outreach for example in the form of company visits. These discussions allowed them to clarify available adult learning opportunities, ensuring sensitivity to the needs of the individuals as well as assessing their current competence level. According to follow-up research, common features of effective outreach activities include direct, personal contacts, a multi-channel approach and peer activities. The programme evaluation also confirmed that the target group needed more encouragement and support than the average (especially at the beginning of the studies). (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2010[15]; Antikainen, 2014[16])

  • Find creative ways to engage a community: One of the target groups of the Helsinki Skills Centre’s programme KYKY (Koulujen Yritysten Kiihdytetty Yhteiskehittäminen) are stay-at-home parents who typically do not get in touch with authorities. Main target groups are Somali, Kurdish and Arabic speaking migrants. Outreach takes place with the help of municipalities, NGOs, language-learning groups, but also by approaching individuals about the programme in food shops that are frequented by immigrants. The programme employs counsellors from the community, as it was recognised that personal contact and word of mouth was key to engaging participants. One of the key learnings from the programme is that the target population needs to be sufficiently large for community engagement to be effective (min. 3000 people). The programme is funded by the European Social Fund and it is operational since 2014. (Winsten, 2019[21])

There are many ways to connect with adults in their day-to-day lives with the goal to inform and signpost them to learning opportunities. Outreach is especially successful when it makes use of existing relationships of those who know the target group, such as trade unions, teachers NGOs or social workers (Human Resources and Social Development Canada, 2008[41]). Existing practices from other OECD economies illustrate how this can work in practice:

  • Reach out in the workplace: The trade union-led programme Unionlearn in the UK trains Union Learning Representatives who promote the value of learning in companies, support learners in identifying their training needs and arrange education and basic skill training opportunities. The programme also intends to build learner confidence through peer-to-peer support. It makes use of the existing relationship and trust between workers and their trade union representatives. Since its inception in the 1990s, Unionlearn has helped adults to achieve self-confidence, career progression and further training participation. Employers also recognise benefits such as an increase in organisational performance. Evaluation results show that the programme is especially successful for those with low skills, older workers and learners from minority ethnic groups. The programme is funded by the Union Learning Fund, which receives GBP 12 million from the Department for Education per year. It has been estimated that every pound invested in the programme has brought a return of GBP 12.3 to the economy (OECD, 2019[3]; Pennacchia et al., 2018[29]).

  • Engage adults where their children are learning: The Austrian Mum is learning German! (Mama lernt Deutsch!) programme is also a good example in this regard. The programme provides basic skills courses for mothers with low-educational levels and for whom German is not their first language. Courses take place at their children’s basic education institution and reaches out to adults in their role as parents. The programme recognises that many adults are confronted with their own low literacy and numeracy levels when their child enters education, which provides them with a reason to take up learning (OECD, 2019[3]).

Improve understanding of the target group by collecting and analysing data

Effective outreach relies on a good understanding of the target group, ideally based on quantitative and qualitative data. Currently, Finland is lacking comprehensive data on participation of adults with low basic skills in different kinds of education provision. It will be important to improve the knowledge base on the characteristics and participation patterns of adults with low basic skills to improve outreach activities in the future. A forthcoming OECD report on monitoring participation in adult learning programmes provides some good examples in the field (OECD, forthcoming[42]):

  • Establish a database along with targeted programmes: Linked to the Norwegian Skills Plus programme, a database has been created to improve monitoring. The database includes detailed information on participants (gender, formal education, industry etc.), which helps to ensure that the programme reaches the intended target groups. The database is also expected to provide a basis for evaluating the outcomes and the long-term impact of the programme.

  • Enable a linking of participant’s data to other databases: In Sweden, municipalities offer adult education courses at the basic and upper secondary level (Komvux). A database (Komvuxdatabasen) contains statistics on participation in these courses including course completion, grades, continuing education and personal characteristics (e.g. age, education, gender, country of birth). Information is available by year, subject, level and municipality. This database can be complemented with the Longitudinal Integrated Database for Health Insurance and Labour Market Studies (LISA) to obtain information on even more individual characteristics, transfer payments and earnings. Individuals are identified thanks to their personal identity number (personnummer). The municipalities submit the data to Statistics Sweden, which handles the management of the data on behalf of the Swedish National Agency for Education for Formal Education.

References

[16] Antikainen, A. (2014), NOSTE-programme for low-skilled adults, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291818132.

[20] City of Helsinki (2018), Helsinki Skill Centre, https://www.hel.fi/maahanmuuttajat/en/work-and-entrerpise/helsinki-skill-center/.

[31] Desjardins, R., K. Rubenson and M. Milana (2006), Unequal chances to participate in adult learning: international perspectives, UNESCO.

[24] EAEA (2017), Adult education in Europe 2017, a civicl society view.

[19] Finn, D. (2016), Issues emerging from combining active and passive measures for the long term unemployed - the design and delivery of single points of contact, European Commission.

[33] Finnie, R. and R. Meng (2005), “Literacy and labour market outcomes: Self-assessment versus test score measures”, Applied Economics, Vol. 37/17, pp. 1935-1951, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00036840500244519.

[5] Flisi, S. et al. (2018), “Cohort patterns in adult literacy skills: How are new generations doing?”, Journal of Policy Modeling, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpolmod.2018.10.002.

[35] Fouarge, D., T. Schils and A. de Grip (2013), “Why do low-educated workers invest less in further training?”, Applied Economics, Vol. 45/18, pp. 2587-2601, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00036846.2012.671926.

[13] Goto, S. and C. Martin (2009), “Psychology of Success: Overcoming Barriers to Pursuing Further Education”, The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, Vol. 57/1, pp. 10-21, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07377360902810744.

[9] Hillage, J. and J. Aston (2001), Attracting new learners - a literature review, Learning and Skill Development Agency, London, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED466991.

[41] Human Resources and Social Development Canada (2008), A Look At Best Practices for Conducting Outreach for Literacy Programs.

[18] Hyvönen, E. (2016), Key findings and further development of the Young Adults’ Skills programmes in Finland, EPALE Website, https://epale.ec.europa.eu/fi/node/20740 (accessed on 16 December 2019).

[38] Jenewein, F. (2018), “Sechs Jahre Basisbildung im Rahmen der Initiative Erwachsenenbildung”, Magazin Erwachsenenbildung, Vol. 33, http://www.erwachsenenbildung.at/magazin (accessed on 12 July 2019).

[32] Kauhanen, A. (2018), “The Effects of an Education-Leave Program on Educational Attainment and Labor-Market Outcomes”, ETLA Working Papers, http://pub.etla.fi/ETLA-Working-Papers-56.pdf.

[10] Lavecchia, A., H. Liu and P. Oreopoulos (2015), Behavioral Economics of Education: Progress and Possibilities.

[27] Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (2019), Kasvupalvelupiloteista TE-palvelupilotteihin.

[17] Ministry of Education and Culture (2017), Education guarantee and Young Adult´s Skills Programme (NAO) in Finland 2013-2018.

[15] Ministry of Education and Culture (2010), Noste Programme 2003-2009 Finlan Report, http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Julkaisut/julkaisulistaus?lang=en.

[34] Ministry of Education Science and Culture Iceland (2018), Policy Questionnaire: Readiness of Adult Learning Systems to Address Changing Skills Needs.

[2] Musset, P. (2015), Building Skills For All: A Review of Finland. Policy Insights on literacy, numeracy and digital skills from the survey of adult skills, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/finland/Building-Skills-For-All-A-Review-of-Finland.pdf (accessed on 19 April 2019).

[8] Norden (2015), Adult Skills in the Nordic Region, Nordic Council of Ministers, http://www.norden.org.

[3] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Engaging low-skilled adults in learning, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/engaging-low-skilled-adults-2019.pdf.

[23] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Future-Ready Adult Learning Systems, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264311756-en.

[6] OECD (2018), Working Together: Skills and Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Finland, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264305250-en.

[37] OECD (forthcoming), Increasing Adult Learning Participation: Learning from Successful Reforms, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[42] OECD (forthcoming), Monitoring participation in adults learning programmes, OECD Publishing.

[36] O’Neill, S. and M. Thomson (2013), “Supporting academic persistence in low-skilled adult learners”, Support for Learning, Vol. 28/4, pp. 162-172, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9604.12038.

[4] Pareliussen, J. (2016), “Age, skills and labour market outcomes in Finland”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1321, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jlv23953gq1-en.

[29] Pennacchia, J. et al. (2018), Barriers to learning for disadvantaged groups.

[22] Prime Minister’s Office (2019), Experimental Finland, https://kokeilevasuomi.fi/en/key-project (accessed on 16 September 2019).

[28] Roosmaa, E. and E. Saar (2017), “Adults who do not want to participate in learning: a cross-national European analysis of their perceived barriers”, International Journal of Lifelong Education, Vol. 36/3, pp. 254-277, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02601370.2016.1246485.

[11] Semmar, Y. (2006), “Distance Learners and Academic Achievement: The Roles of Self-Efficacy, Self-Regulation and Motivation”, Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, Vol. 12/2, pp. 244-256, http://dx.doi.org/10.7227/jace.12.2.9.

[39] Steiner, M. et al. (2017), Evaluation der Initiative Erwachsenenbildung, Institut für Höhere Studien, Wien.

[40] Steuerungsgruppe Initiative Erwachsenenbildung (2019), Programmplanungsdokument Initiative Erwachsenenbildung. Länder-Bund-Initiative zur Förderung grundlegender Bildungsabschlüsse für Erwachsene inklusive Basisbildung, http://www.initiative-erwachsenenbildung.at.

[7] Sulkunen, S. and A. Malin (2018), “Literacy, Age and Recentness of Education Among Nordic Adults”, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 62/6, pp. 929-948, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2017.1324898.

[25] TAIKOJA (2019), TAIKOJA, https://taikoja.fi/.

[26] Tiina Korhonen (2018), Regional Employment Trials, MEE Finland, Helsinki.

[14] Tuomaala, M. (2018), “Aktiivisilta työvoimapoliittisilta palveluilta avoimille työmarkkinoille sijoittuminen”, TEM-analyyseja, Vol. 88.

[12] Veronica McGivney (1993), “Participation and non-participation: a review of the literature”, in Edwards, R., S. Sieminski and D. Zeldin (eds.), Adult learners, education and trianing, Routledge.

[30] Windisch, H. (2016), How to motivate adults with low literacy and numeracy skills to engage and persist in learning: A literature review of policy interventions, Springer Netherlands, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11159-016-9553-x.

[21] Winsten, F. (2019), Helsini Skills Centre - Competence ahead of education, professions and work.

[1] Woessmann, L. (2016), “The economic case for education”, Education Economics, Vol. 24/1, pp. 3-32, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09645292.2015.1059801.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

https://doi.org/10.1787/2ffcffe6-en

© OECD 2020

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.