Progress on skills gaps could boost economy

Author: Georgi Gyton | Date: 6 Jul 2016

OECD survey shows significant skills gaps in older adults in Indonesia and Singapore

Skills gaps in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments are most prevalent in older Indonesian and Singaporean adults, according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The new Skills Matter report has been compiled from assessments of more than 50,000 16-65 year olds in nine different countries, measuring what they know and how they use their skills at work.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, the overall skill level of adults was behind those of other countries and economies which took part in the survey, although the spread of scores across age-groups was wider than most. Workers were also less likely than average to use these three skills in the workplace.
The survey found that while the number of people finishing their school education has increased significantly over time, it has not had any real impact on closing gaps in proficiency. When it came to literacy, for example, older adults scored 62.6 points behind the OECD average, while younger adults (25-34 years old), scored 73.9 points below average.
Gender played a big part with men scoring significantly higher than women for both literacy and numeracy, while there was also a high degree of mismatch between employees’ literacy skills and the level demanded of them in their jobs, compared with the OECD average. Overskilled workers made up 14.5 per cent of the adult population, compared with 10.8 per cent on average, while 4.7 per cent were underskilled, compared with 3.8 per cent average score.
According to the OECD, improving the information-processing skills of the population in Jakarta, particularly by improving the quality of schooling, will be essential for the country’s continued economic development.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, only 2.4 per cent of those nearing retirement could manage to read complex texts and 3.4 per cent were capable of handling tasks involving complex numeracy skills, which the report put down to the higher prevalence of non-native English speakers (which the assessment was conducted in) and by respondents’ relatively low levels of educational achievement.
These findings were in stark contrast with young people entering the world of work. Those aged 16-24 years old performed better than average when it came to literacy and had the highest share of top performers in numeracy, highlighting the huge changes that have taken place in the country in terms of education.
The majority of workers in Singapore were also well-matched in jobs, with only 9.9 per cent identified as overskilled and 2.9 per cent as underskilled.
The new report builds on the OECD’s 2013 survey, which tested more than 150,000 people in 24 countries. According to the organisation, these additional country results show that there is a clear indication that improving these skills would not only aid employment prospects and quality of life, but also economic growth.
However the OECD admitted, “in countries where large shares of adults have poor skills, it is difficult to introduce productivity enhancing technologies and new ways of working, which stalls improvements in living standards”.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Singapore last week, Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said: “Without the right skills, people will languish on the margins of society, technological progress will slow and countries will struggle in the global economy."
“Governments must improve their education system and work with business and unions to develop fair and inclusive policies so that everyone can participate fully in society.”
The OECD said the findings also pointed to the fact that proficiency continues to improve over time and that participating in work and training plays a key role in developing and maintaining skills over a person’s lifetime.