Assessment and policy directions

Key results from the dashboard

The PAL dashboard shows that no country ranks consistently high in every measured dimension of the performance of its adult earning system (Table 1) and there is also room for improvement in every country in each dimension.

Challenges differ, but no adult learning system is perfect

Denmark and Norway, for example, are top performers in multiple dimensions, but fall short in at least one dimension. Both of them perform less well when it comes to the perceived impact of their adult learning provision on skills and employment outcomes. Additionally, Denmark lags behind top-performing countries when it comes to the coverage of the adult learning system and Norway when it comes to financing.

Greece, Japan and the Slovak Republic rank among the low performers in most of the dimensions covered by the PAL dashboard. This suggests a need for significant changes to ensure that their adult learning systems are well equipped to address future skill challenges. All three countries have comparatively low scores for the coverage, flexibility and alignment of their adult learning systems.

But even countries that perform well compared to their peers have scope to improve the readiness of their adult learning system. For example, the three countries with the best performance on the inclusiveness dimension (Denmark, Greece and Slovenia) still have a 10 percentage point participation gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged groups on average.

Some countries are not ready to tackle their urgent skill challenges

One might expect that countries more exposed to the megatrends shaping the world of work would have put in place adult learning systems that are well prepared to tackle future skill challenges. However, this is not always the case. In some countries, such as Greece, structural changes, globalisation and population ageing make investments in adult learning particularly urgent. However, Greece’s adult learning system performs relatively poorly across several dimensions of the PAL dashboard. By contrast, in other countries, such as Portugal, a high urgency to make investments in adult learning is met with better performance across the dimensions of the dashboard thanks to significant efforts to expand and develop the adult learning system in recent years.

More generally, trends in coverage of adult learning show clear improvements in the last few years, suggesting that the rhetoric of broadening lifelong learning is translating into action on the ground even if further progress is required. The share of adults participating in formal or non-formal job-related training increased in the vast majority of OECD countries. Similarly, in most countries the share of firms providing training is on the rise. In some countries – e.g. Italy, Portugal and Spain – the share of firms providing training almost doubled over the past decade, although from a low starting point. Significant increases can also be observed in Poland, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. These trends show that individuals, employers and governments are starting to take action to address the growing need for training.

Table 1. PAL dashboard results
Light blue indicates high performance, dark blue indicates low performance in each dimension











































Czech Republic








































































































































New Zealand
































Slovak Republic
















































United Kingdom








United States










Top third of countries







Mid third of countries







Bottom third of countries













Notes: High performance in the urgency dimensions refers to low urgency

Source: See Annex B and C for details on data sources and methodology.

Financial constraints are only one of the barriers to high-performing systems

The financing sub-indicators provide a picture of the amount of funding available for adult learning as well as individuals’ and businesses’ perceptions as to whether this funding is sufficient. Cross-country patterns in this dimension highlight how financial constraints are only one of the barriers for countries to put in place high-performing adult learning systems. In fact, of the top performing countries in the financing dimension, only Denmark has an adult learning system that is very inclusive, flexible and aligned with labour market needs.

There is considerable room for improving the impact of training

The impact of training participation is a critical dimension but one in which even some of the best adult learning systems tend to fail. Measuring the impact of training is difficult, especially in an internationally comparable way. The perceived impact sub-indicators include measures of self-reported usefulness and effectiveness of training and wage returns. Denmark, Norway and Sweden – three countries performing relatively well across the board – are all lagging behind other countries when it comes to perceived training impact. At the same time, the results show that it is possible to achieve good impact, while also achieving high coverage and inclusiveness of the adult learning system. This is the case, for example, in New Zealand.

Setting out the policy agenda

All countries can do better in improving the future readiness of their adult learning systems. While the exact mix of measures to take and the priorities for policy action will differ across countries, some general policy directions can be identified in the broad areas of: inclusiveness; aligning adult learning with skill needs; the quality of training; financing; and governance.

Adult learning systems should be more inclusive

In a changing world of work, increasing everyone’s engagement in adult learning is key to their sustained social and economic inclusion. It is also critical to ensure that firms have access to the skills they need to stay competitive. Yet, today, only about 40% of adults in OECD countries participate in adult learning in a given year. Some of this training involves only few hours of instruction and is not well aligned with emerging skill demands. Moreover, there are certain groups of adults who participate much less in adult learning activities than others. For example, across the OECD, the participation of adults with low skill levels in adult learning is 23 percentage points lower than for those with medium and higher skills. In the context of rising skill demands, failing to engage these workers in training could translate in higher rates of long-term unemployment. Improved information and guidance on adult learning, flexible learning provision and the recognition of prior learning are some of the measures that can be taken to improve coverage and inclusiveness.

Greater alignment with changing skill needs is needed

In addition to ensuring high coverage and inclusiveness, adult learning systems also need to be well aligned with labour market needs. To achieve this, it is important that they provide the right skills and reach workers most at risk of job loss. Yet on average across the OECD only two in three firms assess their future skill needs and those who do, do not always align their training policy with this analysis. To improve the alignment of adult learning with the skill needs of the labour market, it is essential that high-quality information on skill needs is available and feeds into adult learning policies.

Training provision must be of high quality to have the desired impact

For adult education and training to be useful for individuals, firms and societies, the training provision should be of high quality. Good information on the quality of training programmes and providers is essential to help individuals and employers make informed decisions on adult learning. However, many countries lack adequate quality control mechanisms at different levels of the adult learning system. Further, training activities do not always lead to the desired results and only two-thirds of training participants think training helped them achieve positive employment outcomes. Setting and monitoring quality standards, ensuring that training leads to certification, and regular evaluation of adult learning programmes, can support high quality adult learning systems.

Adequate and sustainable financing is required

Adult learning systems need adequate and sustainable financing to function well. While there is no benchmark for a sufficient level of financing, what is certain is that adult learning currently receives less funding compared to other education areas. Moreover, in the context of the economic crisis and constrained government budgets, many countries report declining public investments in adult learning. This suggests that in the future other actors – employers, individuals – may be called upon to contribute further to the cost of training in line with the benefits they obtain. In this context, governments can design financial incentives for individuals and/or employers to encourage greater investment in training.

Good governance mechanisms must be in place

Finally, adult learning is a complex policy field, which encompasses programmes designed to pursue a variety of objectives and reach different target groups. As a result, the responsibility for adult learning is often split across several ministries, the social partners and other stakeholders, and encompasses different levels of government. In this context, good coordination mechanisms are essential to ensure that policies do not duplicate, but reinforce each other.

Key policies to improve the future-readiness of adult learning systems

The PAL dashboard suggests that there is significant room for improving the future readiness of adult learning systems across countries. Governments can employ a range of policy levers to address this challenge by:

Coverage and inclusiveness

  • Enabling adults to make informed choices about education and training by promoting the benefits of adult learning, providing high quality information and individualised advice and guidance services.

  • Addressing barriers to participation through flexible training provision, statutory education and training leave, financial incentives and the recognition of prior learning amongst others.

  • Providing targeted support to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, such as adults with low skills, the unemployed, migrants and older adults.

  • Encouraging employers’ engagement in adult education and training through: better information about the benefits of training and the availability of training opportunities; building capacity to offer training; and the provision of financial incentives when the level of training is sub-optimal.


  • Collecting and using high quality skills assessment and anticipation information to align adult learning policy more strategically with labour market needs.

  • Steering individuals and providers’ training choices towards skills in demand by providing labour market information and guidance, setting targeted incentives, and offering training options that are in line with skill needs.

  • Designing targeted programmes for adults whose skills are likely to become obsolete in the future, such as those working in sectors undergoing structural change.


  • Collecting information about the effectiveness of training providers and programmes by defining quality criteria and monitoring and evaluating results.

  • Building the capacity of providers to implement quality assurance systems.

  • Certifying and awarding quality labels to providers meeting specified quality criteria.

  • Sharing information on quality and effectiveness of programmes and providers to help individuals, employers and institutions make informed choices about training investments.

  • Encouraging the use of high-performance work practices to put skills to fuller use at the workplace.


  • Ensuring adequate public financing of adult learning systems in line with the social benefits that are generated.

  • Incentivising employers to contribute to the financing of adult learning through training levies, tax incentives and subsidies when there are suboptimal investments in training.

  • Incentivising individuals to contribute to the financing of adult learning through training subsidies, tax incentives and loans, as well as paid training leaves and individual training accounts.

Governance and co-ordination

  • Improving vertical coordination between different levels of government, for example by setting clear leadership and governance arrangements between national, regional and local governments.

  • Strengthening horizontal coordination between different ministries, for example by establishing inter-sectoral bodies, embedding cross-ministry coordination mechanisms in legal frameworks, and setting up regular meetings across different ministries involved in adult learning.

  • Increasing cooperation between the government, the social partners and other stakeholders, for example, by involving stakeholders in the design/update of the adult learning legal framework, developing tripartite agreements, establishing formal procedures for consultation with stakeholders in the legal frameworks, and/or developing committees, councils, advisory bodies or fora to establish a structured dialogue with stakeholders.

  • Enhancing policy coherence through adult learning strategies. The strategies could identify policy priorities in adult learning, establish measurable (quantitative) targets to be achieved within predefined deadlines, allocate dedicated budgets for the implementation of adult learning strategies, and develop clear monitoring mechanisms to keep track of progress.

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