UK adult skills not aligned with industry, warns OECD

The UK also has a higher proportion of adults lacking literacy and numeracy skills than more than half of OECD countries, according to its latest report

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Britain needs to improve the mix of skills in its adult population in order to thrive in a global economy, according to a major new international report.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Skills Outlook 2017, published today, reveals that the UK was ranked 9th out of 28 countries for the proportion of 25- to 64-year-olds participating in education and training. Finland, Denmark and New Zealand claimed the top three spots, with the UK also lagging behind the US (seventh) and Canada (eighth).

But it finished ahead of European rivals Germany (15th), Spain (20th) and France (25th). The UK ranks 18th out of 29 OECD countries in terms of the proportion of adults and workers who are low performers in literacy, numeracy or both.

The report says the UK's adult skills characteristics do not support its areas of industrial specialisation. In particular, the OECD says the UK is among those countries whose “skills characteristics struggle to meet the requirements of the technologically advanced sectors”. Areas where the UK’s comparative advantage has decreased include the manufacturing of chemicals and chemical products, computer and electronic products and machinery, as well as motor vehicles.

UK needs to 'improve the skills mixes'

“To maintain their comparative advantages, [countries such as the UK] need to improve the skills mixes of their populations to better align them with the skills requirements of technologically advanced industries,” concludes the report.

To improve this alignment, the report argues that education and training systems need to co-operate with the private sector, for example through vocational education and training with a strong, work-based learning component; local initiatives to link education institutions to the private sector; and policies to foster interaction between the private sector, universities and research institutions.

Helped by the rise of information technology and transportation innovations, production has become globalised and fragmented alongside so-called "global value chains", says the OECD, which means workers across different countries now contribute to the design, production, production, marketing and sales of the same product. On average in OECD countries, a third of jobs in the business sector depend on demand in foreign countries, says the report.

Countries can, it goes on to say, “improve their competitiveness in [global value chains] by teaching all students strong cognitive and soft skills at the same time, and by developing multidisciplinarity. This requires innovative teaching strategies and flexibility in the curriculum choice in tertiary education while maintaining a strong focus on developing cognitive skills.” 

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