By Daniel Hunter

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. Countries with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality.

The OECD Survey of Adult Skills is the new PISA for adults (otherwise known as PIAAC). 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.”

Launching the report in Brussels with with Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Mr. Gurría added. “Learning does not stop at school: governments, businesses and people can and must continue investing in skills throughout life. (Read the full speech)”

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%), Spain (27.5%) and France (21.6%) perform at or below the most basic level, compared with one in twenty Japanese (4.9%) and one in ten Finns (10.6%).

Almost one in three adults in Italy (31.7%), Spain (30.6%) and the United States (28.7%) perform at or below the most basic level of numeracy, compared to around one in ten in Japan (8.2%), Finland (12.8%) and the Czech Republic (12.8%).

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.

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