Shrinking skills


Demand for high-level skills has never been greater. In the workplace, routine tasks are being automated, destroying jobs that were once middle-class bulwarks. Increasingly, economies demand workers skilled in problem-solving, communications and collaboration and reward those with the ability to recognise and exploit new technologies. 


In the words of OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, “Skills have become the global currency of 21st Century economies. They transform lives and drive economies.”


But it’s clear that some OECD countries are not doing as well as others in  developing these vital skills. Too many people are being left behind, dimming their own economic prospects and depriving their societies of their full contribution. These issues are highlighted in the first edition of the OECD Skills Outlook, which reports on the findings of a survey of adult skills in more than 20 OECD and partner countries.


The survey, of 157,000 adults in 24 countries and regions, provides further evidence of the role of skills in shaping people’s economic success: For example, compared with people at the top end of the scale, those with low levels of literacy are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. They’re also more likely to suffer from poor health.


The survey also shows the significant challenges facing some major economies: In the United States, for instance, one in six adults has low literacy skills compared with just one in twenty in Japan. In both the U.S. and England, there’s evidence to suggest that, unlike in some other economies, young people are not developing higher levels of skills than their parents did. Unless education policies respond now, the U.S. and England face a shrinking talent pool in the decades to come.


This premier edition of the OECD Skills Outlook represents another step forward in the OECD’s work to assess the availability and use of skills in today’s economies, and to explore policies aimed at ensuring individuals and countries can meet the challenge of the future.


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  • If there is one central message emerging from this new survey, it is that what people know and what they do with what they know has a major impact on their life chances. – The OECD Skills Outlook
  • In the wake of the crisis, ensuring an adequate supply of skills, maximising their use and optimising their further development is key to boosting employment and economic growth – The OECD Skills Strategy


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