More skilled jobs for a better society, says OECD

published 10 October 2013 updated 14 October 2013

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched its OECD Skills Outlook 2013. This report emphasises that boosting skills is essential for tackling joblessness and improving well-being.

The low-skilled are more likely than others to be unemployed, have bad health and earn much less, according to the first OECD Survey of Adult Skills released on 8 October. Countries with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality.

The Survey measured the skills of 16 to 65-year olds across 24 countries and looked at how literacy, numeracy and problem-solving is used at work.  It provides clear evidence of how developing and using skills improves employment prospects and quality of life as well as boosting economic growth. It helps countries set meaningful targets benchmarked against the achievements of the world’s leading skills systems and to develop relevant policy responses.

“Too many people are being left behind today,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría “With effective education and life-long learning everyone can develop their full potential. The benefits are clear, not only for individuals, but also for societies and for the economy.”

The survey shows that high quality initial education is an important predictor for success in adult life. But countries must combine this with flexible, skills-oriented learning opportunities throughout life, in particular for working-age adults.

The results reveal the challenges some major economies face in boosting their skills levels. In reading, over one in five adults in Italy (27.7 per cent), Spain (27.5 per cent) and France (21.6 per cent) perform at or below the most basic level, compared with one in twenty Japanese (4.9 per cent) and one in ten Finns (10.6 per cent).

The Survey also reveals the extent of the “digital divide”, with millions failing to master even simple computer skills, such as using a computer mouse. This ranges from nearly one in four adults in Italy, Korea, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Spain to one in fourteen adults in the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

The OECD Deputy Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher gave a presentation at the occasion of the launch, focusing mainly about the UK results in comparison with other countries.

The key points he stressed were:

·         A low level of transparency in the UK compared to other countries, employers not too sure what qualifications mean;

·         Saying that we have too many graduates is an exaggeration. Actually in the UK, same as in most other countries, there is a low level of skill mismatch and not much over-skilling; as in most other countries, the graduate premium is holding up very well;

·         Pay more closely matches skills (more closely than qualifications) in the UK than in many other countries – OECD see this as evidence of good skills utilisation;

·         The rise in knowledge workers has not led to a fall in their pay; there is a lot of churn in the middle of the skills distribution; and plenty of falling skills and pay at the bottom end of the skills distribution;

·         Unions and employers working together in social partnership is a big part of successful systems, i.e. in the Nordic countries, Germany, Korea, Japan and elsewhere;

·         Over-skilling is much less prevalent than over-qualification;

·         There is a bad falling off in skill levels in later years in the UK. Other countries are better at slowing the decline into decrepitude, or better at continuing to use skills so as to avoid losing skills;

·         Numeracy is the single best predictor of economic prosperity;

·         A good point for the UK is the good early years and primary system. The UK started to fall badly behind from 13 onwards, especially on vocational skills;

·         The UK needs a better system to support employers (and unions) to have more influence on skills. At the moment, the government and colleges seem to run the show;

·         Over the past decade, most other countries had made far more progress in improving the average level of skills in the population, while the UK barely moved;

·         There is little difference between young and middle aged in ICT skills;

·         Despite the apparent improvement in school outcomes, the level of actual skills in the UK has not risen much, which puts a big fat question mark over the currency of UK qualifications.

“For EI, it is important that quality education provides individuals with tools allowing them to be adaptable and flexible, so they can undertake any activities and take any work they wish,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “But we want above all trained teachers to nurture students so that young people learn to think and become citizens involved in their communities. After all, they are the future of our world, the ones who will ensure the society is healthy and sustainable.”

He also underlined that social dialogue leads to better quality education and is good for the society in general.

Click here for more information about the OECD Skills Outlook 2013.