Indicator A7. To what extent do adults participate equally in education and learning?

Participation in adult learning is often motivated by the social context. People choose to invest in what they value and devote energy towards becoming more effective in what they find relevant (Wlodkowski and Ginsberg, 2017[3]). Research show that adults participate in educational and learning activities for both intellectual reasons and for the usefulness of what they learn (Dench and Regan, 2000[4]). Intellectual reasons include wanting to keep the brain active, the enjoyment of the challenge of learning new things and an interest in acquiring knowledge, while the practical reasons are more related to enhancing employment prospects and remaining competitive in the labour market. Participation in high-quality formal and non-formal professional development enables employees to update their skills to be effective workers in the 21st century global economy.

Data from the Adult Education Survey (AES) and from the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), show that non-formal education and training is the most common type of adult learning. On average across OECD countries taking part in AES, 44% of 25-64 year-olds participated in at least one non-formal education and training activity in the 12 months preceding the survey, compared to only 7% taking part in formal education and training. Among these countries, participation in non-formal education ranges from less than 30% in Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Turkey to more than 60% in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Among countries that only participated in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), participation in non-formal education ranges from less than 30% in Mexico and the Russian Federation to 63% in New Zealand (Table A7.5, available on line).

The data also show that most non-formal education and training is job-related and sponsored by the employer. Among employed adults, only 9% participated in any non-formal education activity that was not job-related and not sponsored by the employer while 44% participated in at least one job-related and employer-sponsored training activity (Table A7.1 and Table A7.5, available on line).

Equity in access to adult learning is a policy concern across OECD countries (OECD, 2019[5]; European Commission, 2019[6]). Low-educated and economically inactive adults are less likely to participate in education and training because they are less exposed to learning opportunities than highly educated and employed adults. But inequalities are not limited to educational attainment and employment status. They arise even among employed adults depending of the size of their enterprise. For example, there is a common pattern across OECD countries: large enterprises provide more training to their employees than small ones (Figure A7.1).

Employers have a key role to play in providing and financing job-related adult learning, but many small and medium-sized enterprises lack the capacity to offer training opportunities to their employees. These employers may therefore benefit less from training effects such as increased productivity, higher employee retention, better engagement and improved management-worker interactions. For their employees this translates into fewer opportunities to participate in adult learning and, in turn, fewer possibilities to benefit from its positive outcomes. They could be missing out on higher incomes and improved employability, improved general well-being and health, and improved engagement in community and civic activities (OECD, 2019[5]; European Commission, 2015[7]).

Figure A7.1 shows that, on average across the 26 OECD countries taking part in AES, 30% of adults employed in enterprises with under 10 employed persons participated in at least one non-formal job-related and employer-sponsored education and training activity. This share is twice as high (60%) among adults working in firms with over 249 employed persons. The largest differences are observed in Ireland, Lithuania and Turkey where the gap is more than 35 percentage points between the participation rates of adults employed in the smallest enterprises and those in enterprises with over 249 employed persons. In contrast, the gap is below 25 percentage points in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Norway and Slovenia. Across the OECD member and partner countries that only participated in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the gap is at least 40 percentage points in Chile, Korea and Mexico and is below 30 percentage points in Japan, New Zealand and the Russian Federation ( Table A7.1).

In all OECD countries, those employed in larger enterprises are more likely than those in smaller ones to participate in job-related adult learning sponsored by their employer. In contrast, when training is not sponsored by the employer, participation is much lower, regardless of the size of the enterprise. On average across the 26 OECD countries taking part in AES, about 10% of employed 25-64 year-olds participated in at least one non-job related education or training activity that was not sponsored by their employers, regardless of the size of the enterprise they work in. This implies that the size of the enterprise has a large impact on training opportunities available to employees, but when training is not sponsored, whether it is job-related or not, then the size of the company makes almost no difference (Figure A7.1).

There is a positive relationship between the size of the enterprise (in terms of number of employees) and participation in job-related employer-sponsored non-formal education and training in all the OECD member and partner countries that participated in AES and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). However, the extent of participation varies significantly across countries. For example, adults in Switzerland working for firms with under 10 employed persons are more likely to take part in such training than those working for enterprises with over 249 employed persons in Lithuania and Poland. This also holds true in the non-European countries that participated in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): the participation among employed persons even of the smallest enterprises in New Zealand (47%) is higher than for those in the Russian Federation, even among those working for large firms (28%) (Figure A7.2).

In all countries participating in AES and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), except for Estonia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and Slovenia, the largest difference in participation in job-related and employer-sponsored non-formal education and training occurs between adults working in enterprises with 1-9 employed persons and those working in enterprises with 10-49 employed persons (the categories in the Survey of Adult Skills [PIAAC] are 1-10 and 11-50 employed persons). On average, across OECD countries participating in AES, 30% of adults employed in enterprises with fewer than 10 employed persons took part in such activities, but the rate jumped to 45% for enterprises with 10-49 employed persons, 53% for enterprises with 50-249 employed persons, and 60% for those working in enterprises with over 249 employed persons (Figure A7.2).

A similar pattern emerges when enterprises are asked if they provide training to their staff, large firms tend to report providing training more widely than small firms. On average across OECD countries taking part in the Continuing Vocational Training Survey (CVTS), 74% of enterprises with 10-49 employed persons provide training, compared with 96% of enterprises with over 249 employed persons. There are also large differences between countries on this measure, with almost every enterprise in Latvia and Norway providing training but less than 30% of enterprises in Greece doing so (Table A7.4, available on line).

Enterprise size seems to play a more prominent role in the countries where a lower share of firms provide training. For example, in Greece, Hungary and Poland, less than 40% of enterprises with 10-49 employed persons provide training, but the share is at least 40 percentage points higher among enterprises with over 249 employed persons. In contrast, in Latvia, Norway and Sweden, the share of enterprises providing training is very high, regardless of size. In these three countries, even the smallest firms consistently provide training: over 90% of the enterprises with 10-49 employed persons provide training (Table A7.4, available on line).

Working in the public sector is associated with greater participation in non-formal training than in the private sector. This could be related to different culture and governance structures in the two sectors. It could also be associated with the size of enterprises in the private sector compared with public sector employers. In all countries, the public sector employs large numbers of staff while private firms can vary in size. On average across OECD countries participating in AES, 57% of adults working in the public sector took part at least one non-formal job-related and employer-sponsored education and training activity, compared to 40% of adults working in the private sector. This trend is observed across all OECD and member countries participating in AES and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), with the exception of the Slovak Republic where 51% of adults participated in such training, regardless of the economic sector (Figure A7.3).

The largest difference across OECD countries participating in AES are observed in Estonia and Slovenia where the participation rate of those working in the public sector is at least 29 percentage points higher than those working in the private sector. In contrast, in Greece, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, the difference is below 10 percentage points (Figure A7.3).

Adults with higher educational attainment are more likely to participate in non-formal education and training activities. On average across OECD countries taking part in AES, 24% of all 25-64 year-olds – regardless of whether they are working or not – with below upper secondary education participated in at least one non-formal education and training activity in the 12 months preceding the survey. The rate is 41% for those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and reaches 62% for those with a tertiary degree (Table A7.5, available on line).

In Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland the difference between adults with and without upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is at least 25 percentage points. The difference between those with a tertiary degree and those with below upper secondary education is over 20 percentage points in all OECD countries participating in AES, and reaches 50 percentage points or more in Slovenia and Switzerland (Table A7.5, available on line).

Figure A7.4 depicts the association between the participation rate in non-formal education and training and the average number of instruction hours per year, for the OECD countries that participated in AES. On average, 44% of 25-64 year-olds participated in non-formal education and training, and those who did so spent an average of 73 hours on these activities. Both participation rates and the average number of hours devoted to training vary widely across countries. These differences point to different policy choices, which may explain the low correlation between the two variables. Austria is the only country where more than 55% of 25-64 year-olds participate in non-formal education and training and do so for over 80 hours per year on average. In contrast, in Lithuania, less than 30% of adults participate in non-formal education and training and for an annual average of only 42 hours (Figure A7.4).

The distribution of countries in the four quadrants in Figure A7.4 shows that there is no clear correlation between participation rates and intensity. Countries with similar participation rates exhibit large differences in average hours of participation per year. For example, the participation rates in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic are similar to Slovenia’s, but their intensity of participation is much lower, with both countries averaging around 35 hours compared to 142 hours in Slovenia. This shows that even when countries succeed in engaging a similar share of the population in adult education and training, the amount of training undertaken could be very different (Figure A7.4).

The participation gap according to educational attainment narrows when intensity of participation, in terms of hours of instruction, is considered, rather than the overall participation rate. The longest hours are not always associated with the highest educational attainment. For example, in 9 of the 26 OECD countries participating in AES, it is the adults with below upper secondary education who have the longest average instruction hours in non-formal education and training. In Denmark, the highest intensity is among those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, while in 15 countries the intensity is the highest among tertiary-educated adults. Therefore, for some countries, educational attainment is positively associated with participation in adult learning, but not its intensity (Table A7.2).

It should also be noted that the average number of instruction hours per year is generally much higher among OECD member and partner countries that participated in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) than among those participating in AES. For countries that participated in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the lowest average number of instruction hours per year in non-formal education is found in Australia with 103 hours, while it reaches over 225 hours per year in Korea and Mexico (Table A7.2). In comparison, the lowest value for OECD countries participating in AES is 35 hours in the Czech Republic, while the highest is 142 hours in Slovenia. The important differences between the two surveys is probably associated with the survey design.

Participation in formal education and training is less widespread among 25-64 year-olds, but when they do participate in formal education, the intensity is much higher than for non-formal education. On average across OECD countries participating in AES, participants in formal education and training devote 406 hours per year to it, against only 73 hours for non-formal education and training (Table A7.2).

Among participating countries, adults in Germany spend the largest number of hours on formal education and training (872 hours per year). Portugal has the second highest intensity at 653 hours per year. In contrast, in Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom, adults spend less than 300 hours on formal learning; the United Kingdom ranks lowest on this measure, at only 169 hours per year (Table A7.2).

According to a recent report of the European Commission Working Group on Adult Learning (2019[6]), adult learning has not benefited from the increased financial investment in education over the last decade, despite covering the largest group of learners. During this period, countries have increased their spending in education (see Indicators C2 and C4), but public expenditure on adult education has lagged behind and it remains the least well-funded sector of education. This implies that providers of adult learning are forced to work with limited financial resources despite the growing need to train adults and provide them with the skills they need to remain employable and competitive in the context of the digitalisation of the economy and the fast-changing labour market.

Employers are the main provider of non-formal education and therefore contribute a substantial share of the financial resources invested in adult learning (Eurostat, 2020[8]; European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[9]). Providers of adult education can also face barriers in delivering training if they lack the resources. Employers may also be reluctant to invest in their staff if they do not see immediate benefits, or they may not be aware of funding available to train their staff. For example, in some countries, employers can receive financial support to provide training opportunities to staff who usually do not take part in company-funded activities. This could take the form of a reduction in tuition fees when enrolling employees in training courses or they can be reimbursed for education and training costs. Financial support is more widespread when it comes to training low-qualified or low-skilled staff or people who have been out of the labour market (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[9]).

The size of the enterprise plays an important role in the amount devoted to the provision of training. Larger enterprises will be able to spread the costs of training over a greater number of employees. Large firms are more likely to have several workers performing the same job, triggering the need to provide group training (Black, Noel and Wang, 1999[10]). In contrast, smaller enterprises have greater unit costs that may discourage this investment.

Data from the CVTS show a clear trend across European countries: large enterprises with over 249 employed persons invest a greater share of their total labour costs in training than either enterprises with 10-49 employed persons or with 50-249 employed persons. On average across the OECD countries participating in the CVTS, training costs in the form of courses made up 2.1% of the total labour costs of enterprises with over 249 employed persons, 1.5% of costs in enterprises with 50-249 employed persons, and 1.3% in enterprises with 10-49 employed persons (Figure A7.5).

The largest difference by size of enterprise is in Denmark where enterprises with over 249 employed persons invest 4.1% of their total labour costs in training courses, compared to only 1.1% for enterprises with 10-49 employed persons. In contrast, in Finland, Norway and Sweden, training costs as a share of labour costs are almost identical, regardless of the size of the firm. The only country where the pattern is reversed is the United Kingdom where firms with fewer than 250 employed persons invest a greater percentage of their total labour costs in training courses than large enterprises (Figure A7.5).

Across most of the OECD countries participating in the CVTS, the largest difference in the share of labour costs invested in courses is between enterprises with 50-249 employed persons and those with over 249 employed persons. Out of the 24 OECD countries taking part, only 8 countries have a larger difference between enterprises with 10-49 employed persons and those with 50-249 employed persons. This supports the idea that larger firms benefit from lower costs associated with the scale of their training activities and are therefore willing to invest a larger share of their labour costs in courses (Figure A7.1).

Adults refer to 25-64 year-olds.

Adult education and learning: Formal education is planned education provided in the system of schools, colleges, universities and other formal educational institutions that normally constitutes a continuous “ladder” of full-time education for children and young people. The providers may be public or private. Non-formal education is sustained educational activity that does not correspond exactly to the definition of formal education. Non-formal education may take place both within and outside educational institutions and cater to individuals of all ages. Depending on country contexts, it may cover education programmes in adult literacy, basic education for out-of-school children, life skills, work skills and general culture.

Economic sector refers to the distinction between public and private sector. Public sector is a constructed measure in Adult Education Survey (AES) while the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) uses three categories in its questionnaire: public sector, private sector and non-profit organisation. The public sector for AES data refer to NACE sectors O, P and Q. The non-profit organisation category was merged with the public sector category for the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). The private sector is also a constructed measure in AES while the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) uses this specific term. The private sector for AES data refer to NACE sectors B to N, R and S (for a description of NACE sectors, see https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon).

Employer-sponsored education: Employer support can be offered in the form of time (i.e. educational activities that take place fully or partly during paid working hours), or financial support (giving grants to employees to participate in educational activities).

Job-related education and training: Taking part in training activity in order to obtain knowledge and/or learn new skills needed for a current or future job, to increase earnings, to improve job and/or career opportunities in a current or another field and generally to improve opportunities for advancement and promotion.

Levels of education: See the Reader’s Guide at the beginning of this publication for a presentation of all ISCED 2011 levels.

The previous classification, ISCED-97, is used for the analyses based on the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): Below upper secondary corresponds to ISCED-97 levels 0, 1, 2 and 3C short programmes; upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary corresponds to ISCED-97 levels 3A, 3B, 3C long programmes and level 4; and tertiary corresponds to ISCED-97 levels 5A, 5B and 6.

Calculations for data based Adult Education Survey (AES) can be found at: https://circabc.europa.eu/ui/group/d14c857a-601d-438a-b878-4b4cebd0e10f/library/c28a2e5b-ecdf-4b07-ac2f-f3811d032295/details.

For data from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the observations based on a numerator with fewer than 5 observations or on a denominator with fewer than 30 observations times the number of categories have been replaced by "c" in the tables.

Tables A7.1, A7.2 and A7.5 on adult education and training are based on:

  • Adult Education Survey (AES) for European OECD member countries.

  • The OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (the Survey of Adult Skills [PIAAC]) for: Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and the United States.

Table A7.3 and Table A7.4 are based on the Continuing Vocational Training Survey (CVTS) for European countries.

Note regarding data from the Russian Federation in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

The sample for the Russian Federation does not include the population of the Moscow municipal area. The data published, therefore, do not represent the entire resident population aged 16-65 in the Russian Federation but rather the population of the Russian Federation excluding the population residing in the Moscow municipal area. More detailed information regarding the data from the Russian Federation as well as that of other countries can be found in the Technical Report of the Survey of Adult Skills, Second Edition (OECD, 2016[13]).

References

[10] Black, D., B. Noel and Z. Wang (1999), “On-the-job training, establishment size, and firm size: Evidence for economies of scale in the production of human capital”, Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 66/1, p. 82, http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1060836.

[2] Borkowsky, A. (2013), “Monitoring adult learning policies: A theoretical framework and indicators”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 88, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k4c0vxjlkzt-en.

[4] Dench, S. and J. Regan (2000), “Learning in later life: Motivation and impact.”, Research Brief, No. 183, Department for Education and Employment, https://lemosandcrane.co.uk/resources/DfEE%20-%20Learning%20in%20later%20life.pdf.

[6] European Commission (2019), Achievements under the Renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning: Report of the ET 2020 Working Group on Adult Learning (2018-2020), European Commission, http://dx.doi.org/10.2767/583401.

[7] European Commission (2015), An In-Depth Analysis of Adult Learning Policies and their Effectiveness in Europe, European Commission, http://dx.doi.org/10.2767/076649.

[9] European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2015), Adult Education and Training in Europe: Widening Access to Learning Opportunities, Publications Office of the European Union, http://dx.doi.org/10.2797/8002.

[8] Eurostat (2020), Adult Education Survey, online codes: trng_aes_170 and trng_aes_190, Eurostat website, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat (accessed on 4 February 2020).

[5] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Future-Ready Adult Learning Systems, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264311756-en.

[12] OECD (2019), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en.

[13] OECD (2016), Technical Report of the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), 2nd Edition, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/PIAAC_Technical_Report_2nd_Edition_Full_Report.pdf.

[1] OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en.

[11] Reimers, F. and A. Schleicher (2020), A Framework to Guide an Education Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, OECD, https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=126_126988-t63lxosohs&title=A-framework-to-guide-an-education-response-to-the-Covid-19-Pandemic-of-2020.

[3] Wlodkowski, R. and M. Ginsberg (2017), Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults, Jossey-Bass.

Table A7.1 Share of employed adults participating in non-formal education and training, by size and sector of enterprise, job-relatedness and employer sponsorship (2016)

Table A7.2 Annual hours of participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training, by educational attainment (2016)

Table A7.3 Annual training costs, by size of enterprise (2015)

WEB Table A7.4 Share of enterprises providing continuing vocational training, by size of enterprise and type of training (2015)

WEB Table A7.5 Share of adults participating in formal and/or non-formal education and training, by educational attainment (2016)

StatLink: https://doi.org/10.1787/888934162926

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2020

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.