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The world of work is changing. Digitalisation, globalisation, and population ageing are having a profound impact on the type and quality of jobs that are available and the skills required to perform them. The extent to which individuals, firms and economies can reap the benefits of these changes will depend critically on the readiness of adult learning systems to help people develop and maintain relevant skills over their working careers. Today, only two in five adults across the EU and OECD participate in education and training in any given year, according to the OECD Survey of Adults Skills. Participation is even lower amongst disadvantaged adults, such as those with low skill levels or unemployed, or those in jobs at high risk of automation. For adult learning systems to be future-ready, governments must increase their efforts to engage more adults in continuous learning throughout their lives.

While much has been written about the need to increase the number of people participating in adult learning, it is less clear how this can be done in practice. Many good ideas struggle to translate into real change on the ground, as they get stuck in the reality of policy implementation. This report seeks to understand the factors that make reforms to increase adult learning participation succeed by examining the experience of six countries that have significantly increased participation in adult learning over the past decades: Austria, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and Singapore. It identifies key lessons from a detailed study of reform design, implementation and evaluation in each country.

This report was prepared by the Skills Team in the Skills and Employability Division of the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs under the supervision of Glenda Quintini (Skills Team manager) and Mark Keese (Head of the Skills and Employability Division). Mark Pearson (Deputy-Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs) provided helpful comments.

The report benefited greatly from discussions with close to 60 experts, officials, employer federations, trade unions, academics and education institutions in Austria, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and Singapore conducted in April to August 2019. It also profited from written comments by the European Commission. Special thanks are given to Mantas Sekmokas (DG EMPL, European Commission).

This report is published under the responsibility of the Secretary General of the OECD, with the financial assistance of the European Commission (Grant VS/2019/0239). The views expressed in this report should not be taken to reflect the official position of OECD member countries.

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