Executive summary

The world of work is changing. New technologies, globalisation, and population ageing are having a profound impact on the type and quality of jobs that are available and the skill-sets they require. For instance, the number of manufacturing jobs has decreased in advanced economies in the past decades, and an increasing number of the remaining jobs in this sector now require the ability to operate, monitor and maintain advanced industrial robots. At the same time, new jobs requiring new combinations of skills have emerged, such as data scientists, web developer or social media manager. Further changes are expected in the future. For example, the latest OECD research suggests that, should current cutting-edge technology become widespread, 32% of current jobs across the 32 countries analysed are likely to see significant changes in how they are carried out and a further 14% of jobs could be completely automated.

The extent to which individuals, firms and economies can harness the benefits of these changes critically depends on the readiness of each country’s adult learning system to help people develop and maintain relevant skills over their working careers. Yet, many adult learning systems are insufficiently prepared for the challenges ahead. Only two-in-five adults (41%) participate in education and training in any given year, according to data from the OECD Survey of Adults Skills (PIAAC). Participation is especially low amongst those most in need of upskilling and reskilling. Adults with low skill levels, for example, are three times less likely to participate in training than those with high-level skills (20% v. 58%). Further, in many countries adult learning does not systematically prepare people for the changing skill demands of the labour market.

Against this backdrop, the OECD has developed a new dashboard on Priorities of Adult Learning (PAL). The dashboard facilitates cross-country comparisons on the “future-readiness” of adult learning systems across OECD countries. It presents a set of internationally comparable indicators along seven dimensions: i) urgency, ii) coverage, iii) inclusiveness, iv) flexibility and guidance, v) alignment with skill needs, vi) perceived training impact, and vii) financing. PAL focuses on adult learning that is job-related, i.e. adult education and training that is expected to have some effect on performance and productivity at work.

This report accompanies the PAL dashboard. It provides an overview of the data; highlights key emerging challenges in each of its dimensions; and presents examples of interesting policy initiatives. Key findings include:

  • Many countries are facing pressing skill challenges, but have adult learning systems that are under-prepared to address these. Structural changes of the economy, globalisation and population ageing increase the need for timely investment in adult learning. While some countries with more urgent skill challenges, e.g. Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, have comparatively well-prepared adult learning systems, other countries are lagging behind, e.g. Greece.

  • No adult learning system is perfect and all countries face challenges. According to the dashboard, no country is consistently amongst the top performers across all dimensions of future-readiness. Denmark and Norway perform well across most dimensions, yet each country still faces unique adult learning challenges. In Norway, the perceived impact of training is comparatively low and the country only performs average in terms of financing. Denmark lags behind the top performing countries when it comes to the coverage and perceived impact of their adult learning system.

  • Even when countries perform relatively well in one area, there is room for improvement. For example, the three countries with the best performance on the inclusiveness dimension still have a 10 percentage point participation gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged groups on average.

  • Financial constraints are only one of many barriers to a future-ready adult learning system. Data from the dashboard suggests that even where countries score high on the financing dimension, this does not automatically translate into achieving well on the other dimensions. The exception is Denmark, which has a well-financed adult learning system that is very inclusive, flexible and aligned with labour market needs. By contrast, Japan and Korea perform very well on the financing dimension but fail to achieve high scores on most other dimensions.

The report also sets out a comprehensive policy agenda to increase the future readiness of each country’s adult learning systems: i) The coverage and inclusiveness of adult learning must be improved by helping adults make informed choices, tackling barriers to participation and encouraging employers to offer training; ii) Training content should more strongly align with the skill needs of the labour market by collecting and making use of skill assessment and anticipation information; iii) The quality and impact of training provision must be improved by assessing the quality of providers, making quality information publicly accessible and encouraging the use of work organisation practices which raise returns to training; iv) Adequate and sustainable financing should be put in place, including through public funding and incentives for employers and individuals to contribute; and v) Governance mechanisms must be strengthened to improve vertical and horizontal coordination between different actors involved in the adult learning system.

The report is divided into six chapters. Following an overall assessment and policy directions, Chapter 1 makes the case for future-ready adult learning systems and discusses the drivers behind the need for more and better adult learning. Chapter 2 focuses on the prerequisite of high and inclusive participation. Chapter 3 discusses how well adult learning systems are aligned with the skill needs of the labour market. Chapter 4 focuses on how to ensure that training has the desired impact, while adequate financing of the system is discussed in Chapter 5. Finally, Chapter 6 describes coordination mechanisms adopted in many countries to improve the future-readiness of adult learning systems. Detailed results from the PAL dashboard and its methodology are available online and in the annex.

To shed further light on what works best, three booklets presenting good practices are published alongside this report. They focus on: engaging adults with low skills in training; improving the alignment of training with the skill needs of the labour market; and involving employers and unions in the design, provision and assessment of training programmes.

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