Boosting adult learning essential to help people adapt to future of work

Child

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Many OECD countries need to urgently scale-up and upgrade their adult learning systems to help people adapt to the future world of work, according to a new OECD report.

Getting Skills Right: Future-Ready Adult Learning Systems says that new technologies, globalisation and population ageing are changing the quantity and quality of jobs as well as the skills they require. Providing better skilling and re-skilling opportunities to workers affected by these changes is essential to make sure the future works for all.

Today only two in five adults participate in education and training in any given year. The most disadvantaged are least likely to train, with low-skilled adults three times less likely to undertake training than the high-skilled (20% vs 58%). Other groups falling behind include older people, low-wage and temporary workers, and the unemployed.

The most recent OECD analysis suggests that while only about one in seven jobs is at risk of full automation, another 30% will likely be overhauled. However, people in jobs most at risk also do less training (40%) than workers with jobs at low risk (59%). Part of the problem is the lack of motivation to participate in training: across the OECD, around half of adults do not want to train. A further 11% would like to but do not due to barriers such as lack of time, money or support by their employer.

The report underlines the importance of good quality training that leads to skills that respond to labour market needs. Compulsory training, such as on occupational health and safety, absorbs 20% of training hours on average in European countries. This training is necessary but should be complemented with learning opportunities that allow adults to develop skills that enable them to keep their job or seek new opportunities for career progressions.

A new dashboard in the report compares the situation across countries and highlights, for each country, the critical areas for reform. In particular, it summarises the future-readiness of each country’s adult learning systems to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world of work along six dimensions of: coverage, inclusiveness, flexibility and guidance, alignment with skill needs, impact, and financing.

Greece, Japan and the Slovak Republic perform poorly across most dimensions of future readiness. But there is room for improvement even in well-performing countries. In Norway, relatively few adults see a direct impact of the training they undertake on their job or career and Denmark lags behind the top performing countries in terms of coverage. Slovenia performs well in terms of inclusiveness and yet there is still a 10 percentage point gap in training participation between disadvantaged and more advantaged groups on average.

To tackle the issue, the report makes a series of recommendations, including that countries:

  • Improve coverage and inclusiveness by promoting the benefits of adult learning and providing targeted support for the low skilled, the unemployed, migrants and older people.
  • Align training more closely with labour market needs and design programmes targeting adults whose skills are likely to become obsolete in the future.
  • Improve the quality and effectiveness of training. This could include, for example, putting in place quality labels to help workers and firms make informed choices about training investments.
  • Ensure adequate public financing and incentivising employers to contribute through training levies and tax incentives, as well as encouraging individuals through subsidies and paid training leave.

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