Digitalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents, bringing together a majority of the world’s population in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential. But the same forces have also made the world more volatile, more complex and more uncertain. The rolling processes of automation and hollowing out of jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work and life. For those with the right knowledge, skills and character qualities this can be liberating and exciting. But for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work, and life without prospects. We are living in this digital bazaar where anything that is not built for the network age is going to crack under its pressure. Future jobs are likely to pair computer intelligence with the creative, social and emotional skills of human beings. It will then be our capacity for innovation, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will equip us to harness machines to shape the world. All this is driving amazing changes in the demand for skills and the dilemma for educators is that the kind of things that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are precisely the kind of things that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource.

But what exactly are computers up to? This has been the subject of much speculation. This report provides first-of-its-kind evidence-based insights into current computer capabilities with respect to certain human skills. The project uses OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills to understand recent changes in skill demand and then assesses the computer capabilities that drive skill demand further in the near future. The findings of the report are worrying, in the sense that, using what was measured by the Survey of Adult Skills, two-thirds of workers in OECD countries are using the literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving skills with a proficiency at a level on a par with that of computers. Only 13% of workers use these skills on a daily basis with higher proficiency than computers.

It is hard to assess the immediate implications of these findings for the world of work, because not every job task that computers can take on will be taken on by computers right away, just think of driverless cars as an example. But what these results show is that we need much better and more systematic intelligence on the capabilities of computers, currently and prospectively, if we want to educate tomorrow’s workers for their future, rather than our past.


Andreas Schleicher

Director for Education and Skills

Special Advisor on Educational Policy to the Secretary-General