Not only are skills, including basic literacy and numeracy, critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals, they are also key drivers of economic growth and societal advancement. The OECD’s international Survey of Adult Skills aims to help countries secure better skills policies by measuring the basic skills of adults in 33 countries and demonstrating how these skills relate to economic and social outcomes.

This report, Building Skills for All in Australia: Policy Insights from the Survey of Adult Skills, explores the main strengths of the Australian skills system and areas where Australian performance could be improved. It underlines how Australia compares with other countries and what this means for policy-making.

By international standards, Australia’s performance ranges from very good to average. Although these results are not poor, “average” may lead to Australia being left behind in terms of innovation and economic growth by countries that have been more successfully investing in the skills of their people. An estimated three million adult Australians are living with the consequences of low basic skills.

Skills contribute effectively to the strength of the economy. However, in the context of global upskilling and increasing competition for skills in global markets, it is important that Australia takes action. This should include strengthening focus on basic skills throughout initial schooling and in post-secondary programmes, and reaching out to disconnected youth. The report puts forward a set of eight key recommendations designed to that end.

This study is part of a series on low-skilled adults, previously conducted in the United States, England (United Kingdom) and Finland. These reports are designed to ensure that countries make the most out of their skills policies, by building on the findings from the Survey of Adult Skills both for policy development and for charting a way forward. The OECD is firmly committed to supporting countries in their bid to develop “better skills policies for better lives.”

This report was drafted by Tanja Bastianić and Małgorzata Kuczera. Elisa Larrakoetxea and Jennifer Cannon provided valuable administrative support. We are very grateful to colleagues in Australia in the Department of Education and Training for their contributions to the review, in particular Ben Matheson, Emma Fleetwood, Fiona Rochford, Tracey Murphy and Fran Wylie. Patrick Donaldson from the Australian Permanent Delegation to the OECD provided helpful support in the co-ordination of the project. We are also very grateful to Gary Niedorfer from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for giving us access to the additional PIAAC data. Finally, within the OECD we would also like to thank Deborah Roseveare for her advice and support.