6. Getting skills right for all

Job-related skills are essential for the performance of both individuals and firms in the labour market. An adequate skill set means having both the level and the types of skills needed to perform the tasks that are demanded in the labour market. In a rapidly transforming world of work, having adequate skills requires continuous skill investments (OECD, 2019[1]; OECD, 2019[2]; OECD, 2017[3]).

Individuals with the right skill set have better labour market prospects in a changing world of work. Skilled individuals are more often employed, earn higher wages, enjoy better working conditions and report on average greater job satisfaction. Skilled individuals also have better chances to progress in their careers and make the most of changes in the world of work. While the changes in the world of work affect everyone, those with low skills are most at risk of seeing their labour market prospects deteriorate (Chapter 5). More broadly, having the right skill set facilitates social and economic inclusion (OECD/ILO, 2017[4]; OECD, 2019[1]; OECD, 2016[5]).

For employers, having a workforce equipped with the skills required for the jobs of today and those of tomorrow is vital. Employers benefit from a skilled workforce through increased productivity, higher employee retention rates, more engaged workers and enhanced relations between management and workers. Furthermore, having employees with the right skills is important for firm survival, development and innovation. A skilled workforce facilitates the implementation of new technologies and work practices, and skilled workers are more prepared to adapt to changes in the nature of work (OECD/ILO, 2017[4]; OECD, 2016[5]).

Job-related skill formation, i.e. acquiring skills that likely impact work performance and productivity, principally takes place in formal education and adult learning systems. This report only considers adult learning, broadly understood as all learning to upskill and reskill at all levels by adults who have left formal education. Adult learning is sometimes referred to as lifelong learning. Adult learning comprises of i) formal adult training and education, which results in a formal qualification; ii) non-formal adult training and education, including structured on-the-job training, open and distance education, courses and private lessons, seminars and workshops; and iii) informal learning, including unstructured on-the-job learning, learning by doing or learning from colleagues. Adult learning not only improves skills, it also comes with positive health effects (Box 6.1). The analysis and recommendations in the report cover learning at all levels; not only basic skills training. This chapter does not cover formal education in great detail, as the need for education mainstreaming is briefly discussed in Chapter 3. While solid formal education is beyond the remit of this report, it is imperative for social inclusion and labour market performance. In particular, formal education lays the groundwork for skill formation, and affects the effectiveness of later skill investments (Heckman, Humphries and Veramendi, 2018[6]; Heckman, 2006[7]).1

Governments have an important role to play to promote job-related skills formation, firstly because of efficiency arguments. Both employers and individuals may underinvest in adult training and education due to a lack of information, capacity and incentives. Employers and individuals may not be well informed about the benefits, availability and quality of training, as well as which skills to invest in. Employers, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, can have limited capacity to plan, fund and deliver training. More generally, employers may underinvest in skills out of concern for poaching, i.e. losing trained workers to other employers. Individuals may underinvest in education because of training participation barriers. Such barriers can include disability and health problems, a lack of time for instance because of caring responsibilities, financial resources, the possibility to learn on-the-job and employer support (SCP, 2021[8]).

Secondly, governments can support individuals in their skill formation out of equity considerations. In a rapidly evolving world of work, increasing everyone’s engagement in adult learning is key to sustained labour market participation. Having insufficient skills can aggravate labour market inequalities of groups that already experience labour market disadvantage, such as people with disability (PWD), individuals without a high-school diploma and long-term unemployed (OECD, 2019[2]). As shown in Chapter 5, PWD are more exposed to risk of job loss due to automation and polarisation, reinforcing their need for skill investment.

Governments have multiple instruments at their disposal to improve skill formation for all by making adult learning more inclusive. These include amongst others:

  • Publicly funded adult learning provisions. Governments can directly provide or fund adult learning programmes, to make them widely accessible to their population. Many countries provide publicly funded adult learning programmes through their public employment services (PES).

  • Publicly funded career guidance services. Similarly, governments can directly provide or fund career guidance services. Such services can be in-person, as well as online by means of a career guidance portal.

  • Financial incentives to individuals and firms. Financial incentives can be more generous for targeted groups with lower participation, such as low-skilled workers or smaller firms.

  • Statutory training leave entitlements for workers.

  • Standards for adult learning content and provision. Governments may put particular emphasis on programmes to improve basic skills and skills in high demand, such as digital skills. Governments can also implement quality controls for adult learning programmes, including through teacher curriculums. Furthermore, countries can set standards for adult learning provision, for instance to promote flexibility.

  • Accessibility and support. Countries can improve accessibility of adult learning programmes, for example by means of anti-discrimination legislation, reasonable accommodation requirements and tailored support systems.

  • Mutual obligations. Governments can make participation or provision of adult learning obligatory for certain groups of individuals and/or employers.

  • Information and awareness. Governments can provide information and organise awareness campaigns targeted to individuals and firms to promote an inclusive learning culture.

Many PWD have low literacy and numeracy skills. OECD PIAAC data show that among all adults across OECD countries, about one-fifth is able to complete only very basic literacy tasks and a quarter can only perform very basic numerical tasks (Figure 6.1). The five country cases covered in OECD PIAAC data (Switzerland is missing; Belgian data cover Flanders only) perform only slightly better. However, about one in two people with permanent disability has low literacy or numeracy skills on average across OECD countries. Norway performs better, with about one in three people with permanent disability with low skills. The PIAAC data only include information on people with permanent disability, e.g. those who say that “permanently disabled” best describes their current labour market situation. This group likely contains especially people with more severe disability who are furthest away from the labour market. It can therefore be seen as an upper bound estimate of the share of those with disability with low skills. Groups in which PWD are overrepresented – older, lower educated or non-employed individuals – also more often have low literacy and numeracy skill levels in all five country cases. These levels may be seen as lower bound estimates of the share of those with disability (permanent or not) with low literacy or numeracy skills.2

Digital skills deserve particular attention, as digital connectedness is becoming more and more a precondition to participate in our digital society and economy:

  • Basic digital skills are important in everyday life, including for communication, to access information, government and financial services, to find housing and to shop online.

  • Basic digital skills, such as using email and word processing, are virtually indispensable in the labour market. Evidence for the United States shows that older workers with limited skills with workplace computing retire earlier, face pay cuts and transfer to less intensive jobs with worse career prospects (Hudomiet and Willis, 2021[22]).

  • Recruitment now predominantly takes place online. In 2013 already, an estimated two-thirds of vacancies in the United States were posted online (Carnevale, Jayasundera and Repnikov, 2014[23]). A 2015 survey showed that four in five American jobseekers utilised online resources in their most recent job search and for a third these online resources were the most important tool available to them (Smith, 2015[24]).

  • Individuals with digital, abstract and non-routine skills enjoy better employment perspectives and job quality (OECD, 2017[3]; Thewissen and Rueda, 2019[25]; Thewissen, van Vliet and Wang, 2017[26]).

  • The digital transformation is creating well-paid employment opportunities that require strong digital expertise, such as data scientists, web designers and artificial intelligence specialists.

  • Much of adult learning and career guidance takes place online – a trend that has expedited during the COVID-19 pandemic (OECD, 2021[27]) (see Section 6.5).

  • Digital skills are a prerequisite for teleworking (see Chapter 5).

The importance of digital skills has accelerated significantly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Shopping online has become imperative with the closure of non-essential shops and curfews. Government services, such as those offered by public employment services, have shifted online almost entirely (OECD, 2020[28]; OECD, 2021[29]). Teleworking has become common practice in order to continue working. It is very likely that these new digital practices are here to stay.

Yet, PWD have lower digital skills. Fewer PWD have been online (Figure 6.2, Panel A). Among those with disability who have been online, fewer have used online facilities of public administration, banking, shopping or found a job online (Panel B). Moreover, as discussed in Chapter 5, PWD more often do not have access to basic digital technology, such as a computer and internet. Disabilities are at the origin of the digital skills gap, even when taking into account age and educational differences. Accounting for age and education differences reduces the gap by about half for the five indicators across European OECD countries.3 The reason for the disability skills gap can be manifold and could certainly be because digital technologies are not disability inclusive, or because PWD are less exposed to acquiring these skills through work or adult learning. It could also be a matter of income.

While adult learning is all the more important to make up for lower levels of education and skills, PWD rarely participate in adult learning. Less than one in five PWD engaged in adult learning on average across European OECD countries. Participation rates for PWD vary widely between countries, from about one in three in for instance Switzerland and the Netherlands to one in nine in Belgium and substantially lower still in other OECD countries such as Greece (Figure 6.3).

PWD participate much less often in adult learning than people without disability (PWOD). While less than one in five PWD participated in adult learning, the corresponding figure was one in three for PWOD. PWD face an adult learning participation gap of 10-15 percentage points in most European OECD countries. The gap is larger in Norway and the Netherlands (around 18 percentage points), and lower in Switzerland (8 percentage points).4 Also in this case, age and education can only explain about half the adult learning participation disability gap.5 The adult learning participation disability gap is apparent in data from multiple sources.6

Adult learning participation rates are particularly low among non-employed PWD (Figure 6.4, Panel A). About one in 16 non-employed with disability enrolled in adult learning, compared to one in eight non-employed without disability. Rates are too low in all countries, but particularly so in Belgium: only 1% of non-employed with disability indicated to have participated in adult learning. The gap can only partly be explained by differences in age and education.7

The lower levels of education, skills and adult learning participation rates act as a major impediment to the labour force participation of PWD. Findings from surveys among employers and PWD in the United States corroborate the importance of education and skills for employment. The three most often barriers to employment for PWD listed by HR staff in the United States all relate to skills or work experience: a lack of qualified applicants (51%), lack of relevant experience (36%) and a lack of requisite skills and training (30%) (Erickson et al., 2014[30]). American jobseekers with disability in a large representative sample most often mentioned not having enough education or training as an employment barrier (41%). Only 39% were able to overcome this barrier (Sundar et al., 2018[31]).

Employed PWD participate much more often in adult learning and face a smaller adult learning participation gap than non-employed PWD (Figure 6.4, Panel B). In fact, for those who are employed the disability adult learning participation gap is no longer significant when taking into account education and age differences on average across European OECD countries as well as for the five European country cases separately.8 The higher adult learning participation rates of employed PWD reinforces the importance of bringing PWD into the labour market to facilitate further skill investments in a rapidly evolving world of work.

Publicly funded adult learning provided by public employment services (PES) is of major importance for PWD, and for inclusion in general. About 15% of persons availing of adult learning programmes funded by the Austrian PES are either unemployed and have health problems according to the PES or have a legally determined disability (Figure 6.5, Panel A). In Flanders (Belgium), about 22% of those participating in adult learning organised by the PES are either unemployed and have health problems according to the PES or are on sickness, invalidity insurance or vocational rehabilitation (Figure 6.5, Panel B). PES adult learning programmes are important for inclusion more broadly. Also older and lower educated individuals, who tend to participate less often in adult learning, make heavy use of publicly funded adult learning in Austria and Flanders (Belgium). The national administrative data used for these calculations provide useful illustrations between different groups within countries but may not be fully comparable across countries (Box 6.2).

Very few persons on incapacity (i.e. sickness or disability) benefits – generally less than 1% – make use of adult learning offers from the PES. A principal reason for this is that few register with the PES. Increasing the number of persons on incapacity benefits who register with PES is an essential first step for the promotion of adult learning rates among PWD.

  • In Austria, the large majority of all PES learners are unemployed (more than 85% in the provided data). About 12% are employed and 2% are out of the labour force. Virtually no people on disability-related benefits make use of PES adult learning, mainly because registration with the PES is not possible for disability pension claimants, only for those receiving transitional benefits. Adult learning participation rates among different registered groups are comparable (Figure 6.6, Panel A).

  • In Flanders (Belgium), almost all PES learners were unemployed in 2019 (94% in the provided data). The remaining 6% were on sickness and invalidity insurance or on vocational rehabilitation. This means that less than 1% of recipients of sickness and invalidity insurance or vocational rehabilitation made use of adult learning provided by the PES. Very few persons on disability benefits or workers’ compensation make use of PES adult learning.9 Those few on sickness and invalidity insurance or on vocational rehabilitation who register with the PES actually enrol in adult learning more often than unemployment benefit recipients (with or without health problems) (Figure 6.6, Panel B) – maybe choosing to register in order to participate in adult learning.

  • In Norway, while many of those on PES programmes that could be defined as adult learning (see definition in note to Figure 6.6) are on incapacity benefit, this is still a low share as percentage of the total population of benefit recipients. One in two adult learners at the PES are on some incapacity benefit (Work Assessment Allowance or Permanent Disability Benefit). The remaining 50% is either unemployed or receiving other or no benefits.10 The PES administers all benefits, hence, registration is also automatic for recipients of incapacity benefits. Yet, few actually participate in adult learning: only 13% of all Work Assessment Allowance recipients and about 1% of Permanent Disability Benefit recipients with reduced work capacity (Figure 6.6, Panel C). The share of registered persons on Work Assessment Allowance that participates in adult learning is comparable to the share of unemployed.11

  • In the Netherlands, 11% of the PES adult learning courses were taken by disability and sickness benefit recipients between 2012 and 2018 (UWV, 2020[32]).12 This implies that about 1% of all disability and sickness benefit recipients are enrolled in PES adult learning courses.

  • Also in Ireland, very few inactive and employed PWD make use of mainstream publicly funded adult learning. Less than 5% of employed and inactive people with and without disability enrol in publicly funded adult learning. On the contrary, as many as about one in four unemployed with disability and one in three of all unemployed enrol (OECD, 2021[33]).

PWD who are employed participate less often in formal training provided by the employer, though they participate about as often in on-the-job training as PWOD. About two in five employed PWD participate in formal training provided for or paid by the employer on average across European OECD countries and in Canada (Figure 6.7, Panel A). A similar rate participates in on-the-job training on average across European OECD countries, compared to about three in five employed PWD in Canada (Figure 6.7, Panel B). Employed PWD participate 5 percentage points less often in formal training by the employer. This gap is larger in Norway and Switzerland. The gap seems largely due to the weaker labour market position of PWD. The gap shrinks to about 2 percentage points when employee (education, age and gender), job (occupation, working part-time and type of contract) and firm characteristics (sector and firm size) are taken into account. This suggests that some PWD find themselves caught in a low-skills trap, where their weaker labour market position and lower initial skills level prevents them from developing further through education and training (OECD, 2019[34]).

Lower participation rates suggest that PWD face higher participation barriers. Indeed, many low-educated persons wanting to participate in adult learning mention health or age as a barrier to not participating (Figure 6.8). Health or age present particularly often a barrier for low-educated persons in Switzerland and Belgium.13

Employed PWD more frequently face a lack of employer support as an adult learning participation barrier. Different pieces of evidence suggest that a lack of employer support contributes to the lower participation rates in employer-provided formal training of PWD. First, analysis from 2016 EU-SILC data shows that 23% of employed PWD across European OECD countries state that their main reason for not participating in adult learning was that the employer did not provide this, compared to 20% of PWOD.14 Second, PWD state about 25% more often that they asked their employer for training but did not receive it.15 Third, participants with disability in the British Unionlearn programme, discussed in greater detail below (Box 6.4), report more often a lack of managerial support (22% vs. 16%), including for time off for learning (25% vs. 17%) as major adult learning barriers (Stuart et al., 2016[35]).16

Even when participating, PWD may not always receive the adult learning they need to enter employment or advance in their careers. PWD who participate in adult learning from the PES slightly less often find their way into employment than their peers without disability, though the difference is encouragingly small (Figure 6.9). This finding underlines the importance of adult learning for all, but also to better understand which publicly funded adult learning programmes are most effective for PWD as a priority for further research. Part of the difference in employment outcomes likely comes from compositional differences, including in age and education. More detailed data for Flanders (Belgium) shows that entry rates into work are similar for young and low-educated PWD and PWOD. Instead, prime-aged, middle and higher educated PWD are in employment after adult learning less often than their counterparts without disability. There may also be differences in type of adult learning that persons receive, with different entry rates into work (see Section 6.4). More generally, whereas comparisons of entry rates between PWD and PWOD within countries are useful, the comparability of entry rates between countries may be low (Box 6.2). For instance, the low rates of entry into employment in Austria and to a lesser extent for Norway likely at least partially reflect the difficulty of entering employment in 2020 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.17

Employed PWD report receiving lower-quality formal and on-the-job adult learning. They are less optimistic about the usefulness of formal training they receive. PWD across European countries as well as in Canada less often state that their training helped them improve the way they work, to have a more secure job or for prospects of future employment (Figure 6.10). The gap is significant, even when taking into account their labour market position.18

PWD also express worries about the quality of on-the-job training, indicating that they are less supported by their boss in their personal development. PWD state less often that their boss provides useful feedback on their work (Figure 6.11, Panel A), or encourages or supports their development (Panel B). The gap is large and generally significant, even when taking into account their labour market position.

Moreover, PWD more often state that their skills are not well matched with the skills needed to perform their job.19 The main reason for this is that PWD more often express to be overqualified for their job (Figure 6.12). Particularly many Austrian and Swiss PWD declare a skills mismatch. Skills mismatches have negative consequences for both firms and workers. First, skills mismatches imply that workers are less productive as they do not use their skills to their fullest in their job. Second, high skills mismatches lower the incentives for persons to invest in their skills, and therefore negatively affect human capital accumulation and career developments. Third, skills mismatches reduce allocative efficiency, as more productive firms can less easily hire skilled labour and gain market shares at the expense of less productive firms (McGowan and Andrews, 2015[36]).

The fact that self-assessed skills mismatches are more prevalent for PWD is worrying for their labour market position and prospects. It suggests that PWD do not apply to or manage to get into more challenging jobs that fit better with their skills. It further means that PWD flourish less in their current jobs, which likely hampers their career development. More generally, it suggests that increasing education and skills alone is not sufficient to improve the labour market position of PWD (Chapter 2).

OECD countries, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, should improve their adult learning system to get skills right for all – including for PWD. Getting skills right for all is important to have an adequately skilled and future-ready workforce and to promote universal inclusion. Countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which include all OECD countries except the United States – are legally required to promote, protect and ensure the full inclusion of PWD in adult learning on an equal basis with others.20

This section proposes a set of guiding principles for the design of an adult learning system that delivers for all, including for PWD, irrespective of the main provider of adult learning (i.e. PES and others):

  1. 1. Apply an active mainstreaming approach with widely available flexibility

  2. 2. Provide clear career guidance

  3. 3. Reach out proactively to potential learners

  4. 4. Make adult learning relevant for employment

  5. 5. Build capacity of and encourage employers to train in an inclusive fashion

  6. 6. Tackle time and financial barriers

The section illustrates these six guiding principles by providing examples of promising practices and identifying room for improvement for the six country cases. It goes beyond the purview of this section to comprehensively review the performance of the entire adult learning system for PWD, given the breadth and complexity of these systems in the six country cases (OECD, 2019[2]).21

Formal education and publicly funded adult learning should be based on a mainstreaming philosophy. Persons with any additional needs should participate as much as possible in the same class or school as persons without additional needs. Mainstreaming is an effective strategy to get the basic system right for everyone, including for PWD in the open labour market. It further helps to prevent segregation and stigmatisation. It also minimises the necessity for persons to disclose their additional needs. Finally, emerging evidence for the United States shows that PWD participating in mainstream education programmes have better employment outcomes. Students with disability enrolling in mainstream programmes obtain more often paid employment and enjoy higher salaries (Qian et al., 2018[37]; Grigal et al., 2019[38]).22

First, mainstreaming requires a formal education and adult learning system built on Universal Design from the outset. This means that the system should be designed in such a way that (virtually) everyone can access, understand and benefit from it, irrespective of their needs or ability (Story, Mueller and Mace, 1998[39]). Countries can draw from the rich guidelines and evidence on developing learning systems, material and software based on Universal Design collected by the non-profit research and development organisation CAST (www.cast.org). More detailed guidelines based on the CAST framework have been created for instance for online adult learning (Rogers-Shaw, Carr-Chellman and Choi, 2018[40]). Canada has set up the 2019 Accessible Canada Act to make Canada without barriers by 2040, although the act only extends to the federal jurisdiction and education is the responsibility of individual provinces and territories, some of whom have accessible education standards in place (DESD Canada, 2021[41]). There are a number of federal skills programmes with targeted adult learning support for PWD, such as the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities and earmarked federal funding for PWD for provinces and territories (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2018[42]).23 Norway was an early adapter, presenting in 2009 its action plan “Norway universally designed by 2025” that covers formal education and adult learning (Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality, 2009[43]).24 A promising practice is the case of Ireland, which has made significant steps to create a formal education and adult learning system built with a Universal Design in mind (Box 6.3).

Second, all adults, including all benefit recipients, should have access to all mainstream publicly funded adult learning, as everyone is a potential learner. This includes that enrolment in adult learning should not affect benefit entitlement. Currently, too many people on disability benefits do not receive adult learning (see Section 6.3). The PES is a key provider of publicly funded mainstream adult learning in the six country cases. While persons on unemployment benefits have access to these services, this is not always the case for persons on different sickness or disability benefits, or for employed PWD (Table 6.1). Certain countries demand that people have proof of remaining work capacity to be able to register with the PES. This is the case in Austria (beneficiaries on disability benefits and paid sick leave), Switzerland (disability benefits, paid sick leave and workers’ compensation) and the Netherlands (disability benefits).25 Restrictions are stronger still in Austria for people on permanent disability pensions who need a referral from the Department of Social Affairs to register. Once they register, they lose their disability benefit entitlement. They can register with the Department of Social Affairs, but this organisation only offers segmented adult learning and career guidance such as sheltered employment. Switzerland and British Columbia (Canada) focus their more intensive training measures and counselling primarily to unemployment benefit recipients.26 That said, British Columbia has a well-established adult basic education system that is tuition free for all citizens outside the PES, delivered primarily by post-secondary institutions and school districts (OECD, 2020[44]).

Third, mainstreaming necessitates an active engagement and awareness of adult learning providers and teachers. Providers and teachers should view it as their responsibility and be able to instruct as many learners in the classroom as possible and help identify learners in need of further accommodation. For this, providers and teachers require access to authoritative and accessible guidelines how to identify and support learners with disability. These guidelines should go beyond compliance requirements and promote best practices. Furthermore, inclusive education and disability awareness should be part of the teacher curriculum. Again, countries can draw from the rich material on curriculum design and courses on effective inclusive learning from CAST (www.cast.org). Austria’s training for all teachers contains a compulsory module on inclusive education and disability awareness, since its adoption of the New Teacher Training guidelines in 2013. Its PES also demands that its contracted out services have taken inclusive learning modules. Such modules exist but are not compulsory for adult learning teachers in Flanders (Belgium), the Netherlands and Norway (ANED, 2021[45]).

Fourth, the adult learning system should be held accountable for mainstreaming. This firstly includes clear budget lines to resource supports to learners with disability in the mainstream system. Dedicated budget is particularly important in a mainstreaming system, to make sure that a sufficient part of investment goes to PWD. Governments should use such budget lines as an instrument to promote mainstreaming, by requiring mainstream establishments to transfer budgets in case of referrals. Governments should further set out clear institutional targets for the inclusion of adult learners with disability. There is little information available whether the six country cases use financial incentives and institutional targets to promote inclusion, although this is of vital importance for effective mainstreaming. The Austrian National Action Plan on Disability 2012-20 stresses that universal accessibility should be an important principle when awarding government funding for adult learning to (private) providers. The evaluation of the action plan states that the government has only partially accomplished this, without more detail (Austrian Sozialministerium, 2020[46]). More generally, countries should track adult learning participation and consecutive labour market outcomes of PWD to hold the system responsible for inclusion. The Austrian, Flemish (Belgium) and Norwegian PES are promising practices to follow in this regard, as is evident from the figures displaying their data in this report.

Fifth, the adult learning system should accommodate individualised learning pathways by means of widely available flexibility in content and provision. Mainstreamed accommodation reduces the need for learners to disclose their preferences and constraints, including health problems. Many learners, such as PWD, migrants and older persons can benefit from access to simplified language course material. Equally, many learners including those with disability and with family commitments would gain from possibilities for part-time enrolment and distance, blended and modular courses to shape their own learning path in their own time and place (Kis and Windisch, 2018[47]). Distance learning can be particularly helpful for learners for whom it is physically or mentally more demanding to come to a learning facility at a set hour. Blended courses that combine face-to-face and distance learning are particularly promising, as they still allow learners to benefit from direct contact with teachers and classmates to improve both technical knowledge and social skills (McGinty, 2018[48]). Modular learning provides flexibility by allowing individuals to work towards a full qualification over time by successively adding self-contained modules to their learning portfolio, in contrast to traditional learning programmes that require full completion to gain a qualification (OECD, 2019[34]).

The extent to which publicly funded adult learning is flexible differs across countries and type of adult learning. For instance, the Centres of Adult Education in Flanders (Belgium) are a promising practice, by providing adult learning in an almost fully modular format (Box 6.3). The courses provided by the Flemish PES courses are less flexible by themselves, though flexible learning is still generally possible by means of a generous offer of courses. Higher education institutions however, in particular universities, offer little flexibility, which may explain why few adults enrol in their programmes (OECD, 2019[49]).

In Austria, PES programme guidelines generally do not allow for provision in the evenings, weekends or modular blocks. The minimum intensity is 16 hours per week. There are specific programmes that offer more flexibility, such as the modular training programme Kompetenz mit System at apprenticeship level for persons with recurring periods of unemployment. The system also offers more online courses since the COVID-19 pandemic. Dutch private providers generally offer wide flexibility, though this is not the case for higher education institutions such as universities (OECD, 2017[53]). Swiss law explicitly acknowledges that equal opportunities in access to adult learning involves adaptation of the duration and organisation of adult learning offers for PWD.27 A promising practice of prevalent flexibility throughout the adult learning system comes from Denmark (Box 6.3).

Sixth, learners need to have access to continuous and proactive support where needed. Dedicated and knowledgeable access officers should be responsible for continuous and one-stop shop support at course entry, throughout the course and afterwards towards further learning and sustainable employment. Ideally, support should be proactive. As many learners may not disclose constraints, countries may consider implementing a standardised process that screens all learners at point of entry to identify any additional needs. In Canada, each adult learners at Novia Scotia’s Community College, a network of 14 campuses, is assigned a faculty advisor who provides support throughout the programme to achieve their individual career and academic goals. The faculty advisor can help the student to access learning supports, academic accommodations and tutoring programs. The Netherlands provides possibilities for extended learnings paths and individual guidance throughout secondary and higher professional education. A promising example of screening comes from the Irish Technological University Dublin (Box 6.3).

Seventh, PWD should play an active role in the design of adult learning systems. A truly inclusive system requires that all voices are heard. Active involvement helps to ensure that the adult learning system is designed with bodies and abilities of PWD in mind. It further empowers PWD, as expressed by the motto “Nothing About Us Without Us”. A first example comes from Flanders (Belgium), where the PES uses focus groups of employees who are part of the target groups for inclusion, including employees with disability. The VDAB also reports on the share of employees with disability – 4% in 2019 (VDAB, 2021[54]). Disability interest groups can play a role as well, and can provide a perspective of non-employed and employed PWD. For instance, Norway has established permanent contact forums and focus groups for PWD within relevant directorates, including in the departments of labour, education and training and health. Each municipal and county authority are required by law to set up an advisory council for PWD (Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality, 2018[55]). Such focus groups of PWD are also actively involved in the creation of the strategy to increase secondary education completion rates in Norway (Norwegian Ministry of Education, 2021[56]).

Career guidance helps adults to appreciate the importance of learning and to make well-informed educational, adult learning and occupational choices in a constantly evolving world of work. Many organisations provide career guidance services, including private providers and publicly funded career services such as the PES (OECD, 2021[57]).

Persons facing labour market disadvantage, including PWD, have much to gain from career guidance services. PWD more often are unemployed, inactive or in lower quality jobs and have higher training needs. Moreover, they may be less aware of promising training avenues and may opt for no or less demanding training as they are more risk-adverse or lack confidence (Klein, Iannelli and Smyth, 2016[58]).

Whilst career guidance services can be particularly helpful to persons facing labour market disadvantage, they tend to use them less often. Evidence for Chile, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States from the OECD 2020 Survey of Career Guidance for Adults shows that older and lower educated adults avail of career guidance services in general much less often.

For persons facing labour market disadvantage, career guidance provided by publicly funded institutions is particularly important.28 Administrative records for Austria show that a relatively high share of people availing of career guidance commissioned by PES have a disability, is older or has a lower education (Figure 6.13). Conversely, PWD may less avail of career guidance targeted to persons already in the labour market, when this measure is offered by the PES. Participants of the Flemish (Belgium) career guidance voucher programme offering highly subsidised intensive career guidance of up to seven hours for workers with at least seven years work experience tend not to have a disability, are generally prime-age and higher educated.29 Participants with disability making use of this programme tend to ask more questions on rehabilitative work and work accommodation, whereas participants without disability pose more questions on career advancement and leadership (VDAB, 2019[59]).

Countries can improve their career guidance offer to PWD in multiple ways. Countries should have a high-quality online career guidance portal built on Universal Design principles. Online portals are important for PWD who may appreciate flexibility of time and place more. Online portals have become even more vital throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (OECD, 2021[27]). High-quality online portals integrate information on availability, costs and quality of education and training programmes, up-to-date labour market information and available financial support. They further help persons understand what skills they have and provide ways to communicate directly with a career guidance advisor to ask questions and interpret the information. This should be all centralised in a single portal to prevent fragmentation. The portal should be built on Universal Design principles so that PWD can use them effectively. All OECD countries have space to improve their online portal, and can learn from experiences of identified promising practices (OECD, 2021[57]). Norway launched in 2020 a national digital career guidance service, including an e-guidance service for end-users as well as for practitioners (www.karriereveiledning.no). The service has been built with accessibility in mind. It presents easily accessible self-help online information as well as guidance to local in-person services (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2016[60]).

Countries should offer high-quality in-person career services that are free for all. In-person services are important for PWD to identify fitting pathways into work, promote self-confidence and motivation and improve career and training-search efficacy (Solberg et al., 2012[61]). Moreover, in-person services are of particular importance for PWD ability as they more often lack digital access and skills. In Norway and the Flemish and German-speaking parts of Belgium, all individuals have the statutory right to career guidance, forcing governments to offer universal career guidance services. Austria and Wallonia (Belgium) do not have such universal legal right, but offer their services freely to all adults (OECD, 2017[62]). Instead, access to career guidance in Switzerland varies by canton. It is generally free for low-skilled and low-income individuals. Austria is a promising example of high-quality career guidance services.

Career guidance should be personalised, by addressing the adult learning and employment barriers that people face. PES career guidance services generally provide personalised services that are more intensive for groups at a greater distance of the labour market (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[63]). Countries may propose more extensive personalised services to particular groups facing larger barriers. Several OECD countries, including Canada and Norway, have career guidance services for early school leavers and students with additional education needs (Brussino, 2020[64]). Austria’s online portal (www.erwachsenenbildung.at) includes specific support for low-educated learners to overcome fear to go back to learning and how to learn effectively (OECD, 2021[57]). Moreover, its main vocational rehabilitation provider (Berufliches Bildungs- und Rehabilitationszentrum) offers integrated and personalised career guidance particularly relevant for PWD, provided by certified providers. In 2019, about 65 000 individuals availed of these services. Canada Pension Plan (CPP) provides career guidance and occupational vocational rehabilitation to its disability benefit recipients with regained work capacity who wish to return to work. The Netherlands offers more intense career guidance to workers aged 45 and above; an age group among which disability is more prevalent. The advice provides insights on the workers’ current job, competences, and future career prospects as well as on staying employed until retirement and favouring a smooth transition into retirement (OECD, 2021[57]). Switzerland launched a free career assessment for people aged 40 plus in 2021 in 11 cantons called viamia. In 2022 the policy was implemented as the evaluations were positive. An interesting example are the French one-stop career guidance shops (Conseil en Evaluation Professionne, or CEPl) that offer free and personalised advice to anyone wishing to receive guidance. Users can find their professional development advisor on an accessible website, which guides the user to a specialised CEP organisation tailored to their personal situation (e.g. employment status, age, or disability). In a first step, the client is invited for a one-to-one interview for a personalised assessment of skills and experience. Next, the CEP adviser and client develop together a professional plan, including any recommended training. The CEP adviser continues to provide support to the client when executing the professional plan (OECD, 2021[57]). First evaluations indicate the importance of better equipping CEP advisers with knowledge on health issues, in order to help identify clients in need of further accommodation (Rougier and LeGrand-Jung, 2016[65]).

Reaching out proactively to groups that participate less often in career guidance and adult learning using existing relationships helps them connect with adult learning. An important reason why many groups facing a labour market disadvantage participate less often in training is that they find it more difficult to recognise their learning needs and enquire less often into training opportunities. On average across European OECD countries, only 12% of adults with low skills looked for learning opportunities compared to 36% of adults with high skills, according to the 2016 Adult Education Survey (OECD, 2019[34]).

Public authorities should reach out proactively to potential learners on sickness and disability benefits using their benefit provision network. As shown previously, benefit recipients cannot always register with PES nor access publicly funded adult learning and career guidance (Table 6.1). Even if they register, they rarely enrol. This truly is a missed opportunity, firstly, since reaching out can be easily organised through the disability benefit and support system, and secondly, data presented in this chapter show very promising entry rates into employment after having finished adult learning (Figure 6.9). Indeed, further evidence supports the view that adult learning is one of the most efficient ways for labour market re-integration, in particular among low-educated jobseekers and long-term unemployed (Card, Kluve and Weber, 2018[66]; Kruppe and Lang, 2018[67]). The Dutch PES, for example, has conducted an experiment in which disability benefit recipients were approached to promote training as part of their re-integration, with promising results (Box 6.4). There are some examples of proactive outreach, but it remains scattered and voluntary. For instance, the Flemish Government has initiated a policy with additional funding for additional career guidance and adult learning for people on disability benefits, in collaboration with the PES and disability insurance organisations. Participation is voluntary and requires the agreement of a doctor that the person has remaining work capacity (Flemish Parlement, 2021[68]).

Countries may consider going even further by making career guidance and possibly adult learning obligatory for certain groups on reduced work capacity benefits, such as young persons, as well as individuals who enter disability benefits or who acquire a disability and have significant remaining work capacity. Countries may want to adopt a mutual-obligations framework, in which governments have the duty to provide benefit recipients with effective career guidance and adult learning services, and in turn, beneficiaries have to participate in the offered services to improve their employability (OECD, 2018[69]). Voluntary participation provides disappointing results. For instance, in 2020, 3 602 disability benefit recipients participated in the Flemish initiative for additional career guidance and adult learning; about 3% of the disability benefit population.30 In a concept strategy, the Flemish Parliament does not seem ready to make participation obligatory (Flemish Parlement, 2021[68]). The Dutch Government is planning to make registration with the PES obligatory for people on disability benefits with remaining work capacity. In the new regime, all new registrants will write together with the PES a re-integration plan, with follow-up support for five years. Countries may draw inspiration from rehabilitation and workers’ compensation schemes, where obligations for training and reintegration are generally stronger. An interesting case in this regard is the 2014 reform in Austria. The reform abolished the temporary disability benefit and replaced it by either a rehabilitation benefit, for people in need of medical or occupational rehabilitation, or a retraining allowance for persons who can no longer carry out the occupation they were trained for. The PES is since then responsible for paying the retraining allowance and offering training to those people with the goal to reintegrate them into the labour market (Fuchs et al., 2018[70]).

Employees with low skills can be encouraged to participate in adult learning by means of outreach through the workplace. The workplace is one of the key places where individuals identify their training needs and take part in training opportunities. Trade unions and staff representatives can provide a bridging function to help employees voice their training needs to their employers. The extent to which staff representatives are involved in establishing selection criteria for training participants and setting training objectives varies substantially across OECD countries. Whilst in Norway staff representatives have a say in about one in four firms with at least 10 employees, this is the case in less than 5% of firms in the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium (Figure 6.14).

The British TUC Unionlearn programme trains Union Learning Representatives (ULRs), who help workers identify training needs and arrange learning opportunities within their companies. Independent evaluations show promising results, including for PWD (Box 6.4). The Canadian Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP) supports union-based apprenticeship training, with an emphasis on supporting access to trade careers for key groups facing barriers, including PWD.

Interest groups from the disability sector can facilitate a pathway to engage persons with adult learning and career guidance. Interest groups are aware of the diverse needs and circumstances of their cohorts and have a network. For instance, the Dutch Academy for Self-Reliance (Academie voor Zelfstandigheid), a collaboration between disability interest groups, the disability and health sector and adult learning providers, provides support to persons with additional needs to participate in adult learning and to live independently. The Academy also provides guidelines to adult learning providers how to support learners with additional needs (Artéduc, 2020[71]). The Flemish interest group Rentree provides career guidance to former cancer patients back to work, in collaboration with the Flemish PES (Flemish Parlement, 2021[68]).

Many countries also use awareness campaigns to reach potential learners, although there is little evidence that such campaigns are successful. The German campaign Nur Mut – Der nächste Schritt lohnt sich. Besser lesen und schreiben lernen, aimed to engage adults with low-literacy skills by means of TV and radio advertisements and posters. The evaluation noted that it raised overall awareness of the importance of literacy, but was not effective in reaching the target group itself. The Portuguese New Opportunities Initiative campaign suffered from similar problems (OECD, 2019[34]). Switzerland launched two campaigns in 2017 on prior learning recognition and improving basic skills, but these have not been evaluated. Flanders (Belgium) has campaigns promoting lifelong learning (Work Up Call) and the use of services of its PES for all adults (En iedereen beweegt). Both campaigns are organised in collaboration with the social partners. Evaluations generally indicate that campaigns are not very successful in increasing adult learning participation rates (OECD, 2019[34]). It seems unlikely that broad campaigns will work better to engage PWD, as they may face additional learning barriers and require more personalised support.

A lack of motivation is the principal reason for persons with and without disability not to engage in adult learning across European OECD countries.31 PWD may face additional motivational barriers, such as a lack of self-esteem and confidence about one’s ability to acquire skills (McGinty, 2018[48]). This is compounded by the fact that many are further away from the labour market.

Crucial for motivation to participate in adult learning is that the investment leads to better income prospects. This is not always the case for PWD. First, for those on disability benefits, the (partial) transition to work does not always lead to higher incomes because of high benefit replacement rates. The transition to work may also come with loss of additional benefits, such as free travel passes or housing support attached to disability benefits (Chapter 4). Second, the transition to work may lead to higher income on average, but this may not be the case. It may be difficult to find a position for a sufficient amount of working hours or a sufficiently high hourly wage. There is also a possibility that work proves too challenging, but that the possibility to move back to disability benefits is restricted or administratively cumbersome (Chapter 4). Third, those with disability that are already in the labour market may not be inclined to invest in their skills if this does not translate into better career possibilities or a higher wage. It may be harder for an employed person with disability to get a better job with the same employer or a new employer. In the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium), low work incentives come out as important adult learning participation barriers for disability benefit recipients (UWV, 2020[72]; Flemish Parlement, 2021[68]).

A generous offer of high-quality learning possibilities to improve basic skills helps to reduce motivational barriers. Improving basic skills is all the more important for PWD who often enter the labour market with an educational disadvantage. For instance, administrative data on publicly funded adult learning in Ireland shows that learners with health problems more often enrol in lower level and generic programmes, such as employability skills and language courses (OECD, 2021[33]). The six country cases generally pay additional attention to getting basic skills right. All basic adult learning and language courses in Flanders (Belgium) and British Columbia (Canada) are free.32 The Norwegian adult learning agency (Kompetanse Norge) has a specific mandate to improve basic skills of the population. In this regard, it has developed training modules to teach basic skills to adults, the SkillsPlus basic skills training in the workplace programme (Box 6.5), and it is currently piloting projects in eight adult education centres across the country to test the effectiveness of basic skills courses. While adult learning in Switzerland is mostly a responsibility of individual cantons, the federal state has specific responsibilities and funding mechanisms to promote basic skills with the implementation of the 2017 Federal Adult Learning Act (Loi fédérale sur la formation continue). Evaluations in the Netherlands indicated that PES case workers should propose more often basic skill courses to its clients (Artéduc, 2020[71]; Artéduc, 2020[71])

Furthermore, adult learning provision should be practical and problem-oriented. Currently, large parts of adult learning still take place in a classroom setting with school-type learning styles. This approach can be problematic for PWD, since they may have experienced difficulty during their formal education and may not want to return to such a setting (OECD, 2019[34]). Moreover, classroom-type learning is less effective for acquiring soft skills (Musset, 2018[73]). One possibility is to promote embedding of adult learning in the workplace for persons already employed, such as the SkillsPlus programme in Norway (Box 6.5). Another is to promote work-based adult learning organised by the PES.33 Information from the Flemish (Belgium) and Norwegian PES (Belgium) shows that persons with and without health problems who participate in work-based learning more often find their way into employment (Figure 6.15).

A particularly promising example of the Flemish PES is the Individual Job Training programme (“Individuele Beroepsopleiding”, IBO). This programme provides jobseekers with work-based learning opportunities by means of a training plan jointly established by the PES and the employer. Employers receive a subsidy to cover wage and social security costs, and financial support to pay for training. Employers have to pay a “productivity premium” and are expected to offer a permanent work-contract to the trainee following the training (OECD, 2019[2]). The PES offers an alternative version of the programme (IBO+) to employers who hire PWD or long-term unemployed. This version offers a longer maximum duration (52 instead of 26 weeks), employers do not have to pay a productivity premium, and the training is completely free.

Countries should further ensure that learning opportunities equip PWD with the skills needed for the labour market. Promoting digital skills deserves particular attention. Digital skills are more and more important in a constantly changing world of work and are a prerequisite for participating in online and distance learning as well as working from home as accelerated through COVID-19 (OECD, 2021[27]). Moreover, as discussed previously, PWD have on average lower digital skills (Section 6.2) and less access to basic digital tools (Chapter 5). Administrative data on publicly funded adult learning in Ireland indicates that only 4% of learners with health problems, and 5% of all learners, enrolled in ICT courses (OECD, 2021[33]). In many countries, digital skills are now considered to be a foundation skill, much like literacy and numeracy. For instance, the Swiss confederation has made the promotion of basic digital skills a key objective with the implementation of the 2017 Federal Adult Learning Act (Loi fédérale sur la formation continue). Luxembourg has established a basic digital skills programme (Internet-Führerschäin) for adults with very low literacy skills to develop their knowledge and skills on using ICT. The United Kingdom’s Digital Skills Partnership programme provides access to low-skilled adults to free digital skills programmes, that have been developed together with employers and charities (OECD, 2019[2]). There are also examples of courses targeting PWD. The Spanish foundation ONCE has developed multiple inclusive training programmes focusing on digital skills (Box 6.5) (ILO & ONCE, 2021[74]). The European Network for Technology Enhanced Learning in an Inclusive Society (Entelis+), consisting of a consortium of ten partners from EU countries and the United States, aims at developing and implementing innovative methods and practices to foster digital skills and competences of digitally excluded groups. Their Fact Sheets and Success Factors on improving accessibility of ICT education and adult learning and uptake of technology provide additional information for OECD countries to invest in digital skills of their citizens with disability. It includes for instance references to digital accessibility training for web developers in Austria, Greece, Poland, Slovenia and Spain (Entelis+, 2021[75]).

Employers have a key role to play in creating relevant learning opportunities that align with skill needs. Better engaging with employers is an effective way to reduce the high skills mismatches reported by persons with and without disability (see Figure 6.12 in Section 6.4).

Firstly, employers can be involved actively in training using work placement programmes. This for instance can be done using work-based adult learning organised by the PES as discussed previously (Figure 6.15).

Secondly, employers, together with trade unions, can help to establish joint priorities in adult learning and anticipate training needs. Social partners and governments come together in skills or sectoral councils to play such a role in many countries. In the six country cases, their engagement varies from managing parts of the adult learning system in Austria and the Netherlands to having a more passive consulting role in Québec (Canada) (Table 6.2). As of 2020, Flanders (Belgium) has a Platform Life Long Learning (Platform levenslang leren) that recommends the Flemish Government. The Platform consists of representatives of social partners, key stakeholders (public and private adult learning providers, municipalities, the PES) and different experts (on adult learning, education, technological innovation) (Government Flanders, 2020[76]). Canada launched in 2019 the federal government initiative Future Skills. The initiative established an advisory body to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion (Future Skills Council), with members from public, private, labour, education and training providers, non-profit organisations and Indigenous interest groups, as well as an independent research institute (Future Skills Centre). The Future Skills Council and Centre have a special mandate to address the needs of disadvantaged groups, including PWD (OECD, 2020[44]). A promising practice comes from Korea, where social partners help to define national training standards and integrate them in their own training (Box 6.5).

Employers should be actively supported and encouraged to provide inclusive training. While employers play a key role in providing adult learning, few firms do so to a large part of their staff. As discussed previously, PWD participate less often in employer-provided training and receive less employer support for their personal development. Less than two in five European firms with at least ten employees fully or partly finance adult learning to 50% of their employees (Figure 6.16). Firms in Belgium and Norway are somewhat more inclusive in their training behaviour. Inclusiveness is particularly a concern in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Further, firms may not necessarily know what skills to invest in or how to develop an appropriate training offer.

Governments may provide targeted coaching and financial incentives to firms to help them provide inclusive adult learning. In Flanders (Belgium), the government-funded Centres for Adult Basic Education send so-called “ambassadors” to firms to evaluate work-based learning opportunities and discuss the benefits of providing these opportunities with the company. The ambassadors particularly aim to improve adult learning opportunities for low-skilled workers. Countries can also address capacity constraints by encouraging firms to team up and use economies of scale to provide better and more inclusive training. The Austrian PES helps firms establish networks of firms (Implus-Qualifizierungs-Verbund) to provide cost-efficient and work-relevant training. The PES funds operational costs of these networks, the development of training plans and assists with applying for further financial support for in-company training (OECD, 2019[2]). Another promising practice comes from the Finnish PES, which provides co-financing to set up employer networks that provide training targeted to specific groups of workers (Box 6.6).

More broadly, the dissemination of high-performance work practices (HPWPs) within firms can promote the better use of skills to improve job quality and productivity. Better using skills in the workplace concerns the extent to which skills are effectively applied in the workplace to maximise workplace and individual performance. It is also an effective remedy against the high skills mismatches that PWD currently experience (Section 6.4). There is considerable diversity to the degree to which employers value and utilise the skills of their employees. HPWPs include, for example, employee reward programmes, more flexible working hours, mentoring and leadership development courses, as well as a company culture that promotes training and development. About one in three jobs in Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands apply HPWPs more than once a week (Figure 6.17. ). Levels are lower in Norway and Canada. New Zealand has adopted an innovative employer support to promote HPWPs (Box 6.6).

Promoting and raising awareness among employers of the importance and benefits of an inclusive learning culture deserves particular attention. Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands have set up multiple campaigns to disseminate rights and responsibilities in relationship to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD). Many of the campaigns target both employers and PWD. The Dutch Coalition for Inclusion, a network of NGO’s and individual PWD financed by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, provides assistance and guidance to respect the UN-CRPD (ANED, 2021[45]).

Countries should also enforce anti-discrimination legislation, including with respect to all forms of adult learning. Article 27 of the UN-CRPD explicitly extends anti-discrimination legislation for PWD into the realm of career advancement and adult learning. Governments have to enforce these obligations to make sure that firms abide. Many countries, including for instance Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, as well as provincial governments of Canada, have an anti-discrimination Ombudsman who has as a part of its task to promote equality for the groups protected by the equality and anti-discrimination legislation. Austria has a dedicated Disability Ombudsman as of 2006, which provides support and information, handles inquiries and cases, and actively works together with NGOs.

About one in seven employees with and without disability mention that time constraints were the main reason for not participating in adult learning across European OECD countries, according to EU-SILC data from 2016. According to OECD PIAAC data, time constraints either due to work related (22%) or family related reasons (19%) are even the most prevalent barrier for low-skilled adults. Low-skilled workers have limited bargaining power to ask their employer for (paid) training leave during working hours (OECD, 2019[34]). Moreover, getting to training facilities and learning may take more time for PWD. Learners with disability part of the Unionlearn programme in the United Kingdom more often mentioned work-related shortage of time as a major barrier to learning (29% vs. 19%) (Box 6.4) (Stuart et al., 2016[35]).

More generally, adult learning systems should have a flexible provision to reduce the barriers of entry (OECD, 2019[2]). Many countries offer several forms of flexible adult learning provision, such as part-time, evening and weekend programmes, distance learning, or programmes in a modular format, all of which contribute to making it easier to work or attend to family obligations while participating in adult learning.

Giving all workers, including those with disability, the statutory right to take leave for education and training purposes can increase training participation. Austria, Belgium and Norway have a legislative entitlement to education or training leave. In Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland, such leave is organised through collective agreements that do not cover all workers. Collective bargaining agreements only cover about one in four workers in Canada and one in two in Switzerland.34 While collective bargaining coverage is higher in the Netherlands (78% in 2017), significant differences in the regulation of training leave exist between sectors as well as by firm size (OECD, 2021[57]).

Compensation for employees and employers to take up leave can further stimulate participation. Training leave in Austria is open to all employees, including part-time workers since 2013. It provides employees the possibility to take up to one year of leave, with compensation equal to the level of unemployment benefits. This comes at a high cost of around EUR 12 000 per participant in 2016 (OECD, 2020[79]). In Belgium, employees can take between 32 and 120 hours off per year. The maximum training leave is longer for training in occupations with labour market shortage (180 hours). During their training leave, workers receive full pay up to a capped amount, while employers can be compensated for the wages paid during training leave (OECD, 2019[2]).

Still further efforts may be needed to promote training leave among PWD. Administrative data from the generous training leave entitlement in Austria show that still very few PWD make use of the scheme (Figure 6.18). This is in contrast to adult learning and career guidance programmes administered by the Austrian PES, where relatively high shares of participants have a disability (Figure 6.5 and Figure 6.13). The low share of persons availing of training leave with disability is part of a wider inclusion problem: relatively few users are older or lower educated. It echoes results of a previous evaluation finding that older and lower educated workers, as well as migrants make less of the scheme (Bock-Schappelwein, Famira-Mühlberger and Huemer, 2017[80]). Part of the low take-up may be explained by the fact that fewer PWD are employed. Other reasons may be low awareness, and perhaps the requirement that employers need to agree with the leave – though a certain form of agreement makes sense for business continuation reasons. Further research could help to make the system a success for everyone.

Financial barriers form another obstacle for PWD. About one in 14 PWD, compared to one in 20 PWOD, state that financial constraints are the main reason for not participating in adult learning across European OECD countries, according to EU-SILC data from 2016. Disability comes on average with more frequent career breaks and a wage penalty, and may come with higher expenses. Moreover, training investments may have lower returns for those in low-paid positions with limited opportunities to progress.

Financial incentives that support individuals can make adult learning systems more inclusive. Financial incentives targeted to individuals, such as loan and individual subsidy schemes, are generally more effective to increase adult learning among underrepresented groups than financial schemes directed to firms. Employers have a tendency to train educated workers who are involved in more complex tasks (Brunello and Wruuck, 2020[81]). Financial incentives may be more generous for targeted groups. France, Canada and the United Kingdom have schemes that provide PWD with additional funding (Box 6.7). The Austrian PES provides an Allowance for Course and Course-related Costs that PWD, among other groups, can avail of. Norway provides more generous conditions for study loans for persons aged over 45 through its Educational Loan Fund. Flanders (Belgium) has a relatively large number of financial incentives targeted to different groups. Take-up among low-skilled and older individuals is relatively how, however, due to complexities in the system and entitlement rules that often exclude for instance jobseekers and workers with a weak attachment to the labour market (OECD, 2019[49]). Canada offers employees since 2019 the Canada Training Benefit, which consists of a refundable tax credit up to CAD 5 000 (about 3 804 EUR) to offset tuition costs and related fees, an additional benefit to compensate income lost while training and leave provisions for federally regulated workers to take time away from work for training while maintaining their job security (OECD, 2020[82]). It also has financial supports for PWD. The Canada Student Loans Program offers loan forgiveness for qualifying borrowers who have a severe permanent disability. The Disability Supports Deduction provides tax relief for the cost of disability supports incurred for the purposes of education, including accommodation, tuition, tutors and sign interpreters. The Dutch Government is planning to implement in March 2022 a personal training account of EUR 1 000 annually available to all adults, called the STAP-budget. In first instance, this personal training account will not be more generous for groups underrepresented in adult learning.


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← 1. Other OECD work examines formal education for PWD or additional education needs (Brussino, 2020[64]).

← 2. We thank Elish Kelly (ESRI) and Annelore Verhagen (OECD ELS/SAE) for providing data and coding. Further calculations not shown here indicate that individuals who are older, lower educated as well as non-employed have about equally as often low literacy and numeracy skills as persons with permanent disability.

← 3. The disability digital skills gap is significant for the five indicators for the pooled sample of European OECD countries, with and without controlling for age and education. In the case of founding a job online this is the case when restricting to the sample of non-employed. Small sample size does not allow for separate tests across countries. As an alternative, country differences are tested using the pooled sample of European OECD countries by adding interactions with country dummies. This analysis shows that trends are statistically different for using banking facilities and shopping online in Belgium and the Netherlands, for which the disability digital skills gap is no longer significant. Canada, Norway and Switzerland are not included in the EQLS dataset.

← 4. The relatively small adult learning participation gap in Switzerland is also evident from national data for 2016. The adult learning participation gap is the largest among older persons (OFS Switzerland, 2018[87]).

← 5. Older persons may have lower incentives to participate in training given the short pay-back time on investment. The disability adult learning gap is significant for the OECD countries and the five European country cases, with and without adjusting for age and education.

← 6. The disability adult learning gap is apparent in the EQLS, EWCS and the EU-SILC database. Comparisons are available upon request.

← 7. The disability adult learning gap for non-employed persons is significant for the pooled sample of European OECD countries and the five European country cases without controlling for age and education. When controlling for age and education, the gap remains significant for the pooled sample, as well as for Belgium and the Netherlands.

← 8. The disability adult learning gap for employed persons is only significant for the pooled sample of European OECD countries without controlling for age and education. It is not significant for the five European country cases with and without controlling for age and education. Restricting further to employees, the disability adult learning participation gap is also no longer significant across OECD countries on average and for the five country cases when taking into account a larger set of employee (education, age and gender), job (occupation, working part-time, type of contract) and firm characteristics (sector and firm size).

← 9. Persons on disability benefits, on workers’ compensation, employees (unless on sickness or invalidity insurance or vocational rehabilitation) or persons on any other benefits (such as social assistance) are not included in the data from the Flemish (Belgium) PES. The Flemish PES has confirmed in personal communication that this is because very few of these groups register with the PES, rather than that many register but do not receive adult learning.

← 10. In the Norwegian PES system, no distinction is made between unemployed with and without reduced work capacity as is in the case in the Austrian and Flemish (Belgium) data. About one in four adult learners has identified reduced work capacity on benefits other than unemployment insurance, the Work Assessment Allowance or Permanent Disability Benefits or on no benefits.

← 11. Only about 1% of Permanent Disability Benefit recipients with registered reduced work capacity make use of PES adult learning. The figure would be even lower expressed as a share of all Permanent Disability Benefit recipients, with or without registered reduced work capacity (0.1%).

← 12. In 2018, about 45% of the disability and illness benefit participating in training by the PES received the Wajong, about 30% in the WGA and about 25% in the Ziektewet. This amounts to about 1% of the benefit population for each benefit (UWV, 2020[32]).

← 13. The data does not allow for a distinction between health and age barriers.

← 14. Further analysis is available upon request.

← 15. Calculations are based on EWCS 2015. Twelve percent of employees indicate that they asked their employer for training but did not receive it. For PWD, this number is about a quarter higher, even when accounting for their labour market position. The small sample size does not allow for a breakdown by countries. There is no indication that the pattern is different in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Norway. The pattern is significantly different for the Netherlands, where employees with disability do not indicate more often to have asked their employer for training without receiving it, conditional on their labour market position.

← 16. On the other hand, British Unionlearn participants more often state that they asked their employer (50% vs. 35%) and actually have taken further training (61% vs. 50%) after having completed a course (Stuart et al., 2016[35]).

← 17. The Norwegian data may also be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, since the data measure entry into employment six months after having completed the adult learning course. Entry into employment in mid-2020, well into the COVID-19 pandemic, may have been particularly difficult for persons who participated in adult learning at the end of 2019.

← 18. Employees in Belgium and the Netherlands are less positive about the extent to which training helped them to have a more secure job (52% and 41% respectively) and for prospects of future employment (around 43%). The low number of observations does not allow for a breakdown by country for training outcomes for PWD. The training outcome gap pooled across European OECD countries is significant at the 1% level for each indicator (1) without controls, (2) when controlling for age and education and (3) when controlling for a larger set of controls (see footnote in Figure 6.10. ). The gap decreases marginally when adding control variables (maximum 20% in the case of prospects of future employment). The training outcome gap to have a more secure job for Switzerland is significantly larger than the OECD average. The training outcome gap for all three outcomes for Norway is significantly smaller than the OECD average.

← 19. The indicator used here is self-assessed skills mismatch: whether individuals think themselves that they are underqualified (in need of further training to cope well with their job duties) or overqualified (they have the skills to cope with more demanding duties). This self-assessed indicator allows for a breakdown between persons with and without disability. The concept differs from the “objective” skills mismatch indicator generally reported in OECD reports, for which no breakdown between persons with and without disability can be made. The “objective” skills mismatch indicator defines mismatches on the basis of education levels of workers relative to the modal education level needed in their job (OECD, 2017[3]). Statistical analysis shows that PWD significantly more often report skills mismatches. The skills mismatch gap pooled across European OECD countries is significant at the 1% level (1) without controls, (2) when controlling for age and education and (3) when controlling for a larger set of controls, with little difference in the coefficient (about +5 percentage points). This is because PWD more often report being overskilled for their job (significant at the 1% level (1) without controls, (2) when controlling for age and education and (3) when controlling for a larger set of controls, with little difference in the coefficient: about +4 percentage points). The low number of observations does not allow for a breakdown by country for training outcomes for PWD. The skills mismatch gap is significantly less large for Belgium. A further breakdown by education shows that the skills mismatch gap is significant both among low-educated employees (around +9 percentage points) and high-educated employees (around +6 percentage points). In both groups this is because PWD report more often to be overskilled.

← 20. For instance, art. 24-5 of the UN CRPD reads: “States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.”

← 21. Moreover, adult learning is often a responsibility for regional governments. This report does not aim to comprehensively review all regions, but shows information depending on availability and usefulness for other countries.

← 22. A further study shows that programme factors (access to mainstream programmes, possibilities of financial aid) rather than student factors (age, education, type of disability) explain enrolment into mainstream programmes by students with intellectual and development disability. This study also finds that students with disability taking specialised courses often stay in the specialised track, and do not find their way into the mainstream system (Papay et al., 2018[86]).

← 23. Canada has a number of federal skills programmes targeted to PWD. The Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities (USD 40 million per year) supports a wide range of programs and services, including job search supports, pre-employability services, wage subsidies, work placements and employer awareness initiatives to encourage employers to hire PWD. An evaluation showed promising results participants’ average annual earnings increased by 38% compared to non-participants with similar characteristics. Overall, USD 1 invested in the programme yielded USD 1.7 in return over a 10-year period (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021[89]). The Government of Canada announced a USD 65 million increase to the Opportunities Fund in the Fall Economic Statement 2020. Part of this funding will support PWD who are already employed to advance their careers. The Canada Student Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities provides up to USD 4 000 means-tested financial support. The Repayment Assistance Plan for Borrowers with a Permanent Disability cancels student debt. Furthermore, the federal government provides funding to provinces and regions (around USD 3 billion per year) through Labour Market Development Agreements and Workforce Development Agreements to invest in skills and employment supports to help Canadians, including PWD. The Workforce Development Agreements include dedicated funding for PWD.

← 24. Norway has recently approved a new action plan for 2021-25, which includes Universal Design measures for the education system and the workplace (e.g. accessibility of the digital and physical learning environment and workplace, interpreting services) (Norwegian Department of Culture, 2021[88]).

← 25. In the Netherlands, only those who have capacity to work can register with the PES. While benefit recipients of WGA (WGA 35-80 as well as WGA 80-100), Wajong and illness benefits (Ziektewet) can register, IVA recipients who have (almost) permanent disability cannot directly register, but generally first need to move to another benefit (UWV, 2020[32]).

← 26. The Swiss disability and accident assurances (IV and UV) also provide training and career guidance for their benefit recipients, mostly through contracted out services. Employed persons can register to the PES. However, they can only access counselling and placement services, as the focus on more intensive training measures lies on job search and placement. In British Columbia (Canada), adult learning by PES (“WorkBC Employment Services”) is principally targeted to unemployed or precariously employed persons who have made some attempt to have entered the workforce. While persons on different disability-related benefits can access the programmes, they may not have access to the more intensive training measures.

← 27. This is laid down in parliamentary discussions on the 2017 Federal Adult Learning Act (Loi fédérale sur la formation continue); see Message relatif à la loi fédérale sur la formation continue.

← 28. According to the OECD 2020 Survey of Career Guidance for Adults (SCGA), whilst the PES is the most used career guidance provider (24% of users), many make use of other career guidance service providers (OECD, 2021[57]).

← 29. Some groups of workers are also eligible to the career guidance voucher programme, including for instance persons on paid sick leave who still have a contract with their employer. Data by this breakdown are not available.

← 30. Slightly more people participated in 2018 (4 007) and 2019 (4 601) (Flemish Parlement, 2021[68]). According FOD Social security, 206.259 persons are entitled to disability payments, of which 51% is living in Flanders.

← 31. On average across European OECD countries, about three-quarters of adults not participating in training were not interested to participate, with even slightly higher rates for low-educated adults according to the 2016 Adult Education Survey.

← 32. More advanced adult learning courses in Flanders cost EUR 1.50 per course hour.

← 33. More broadly, learning in schools and training facilities can be made more practical. This is all the more important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when fewer firms provide work-based learning opportunities. Governments can provide guidance and teaching resources to support the adaptation of curricula, train teachers to equip them with practical learning skills and promote the engagement of social partners in the redesign and implementation of adjusted school-based programmes. Countries such as Denmark and Norway already provide alternative school-based vocational training and education (OECD, 2021[90]).

← 34. Data come from the OECD/AIAS ICTWSS database.

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