Highlights from the Final Report of the
Skills for the Twenty-first century
Skills are becoming increasingly important in the knowledge economy, both for individuals and for countries. The use of new technologies in everyday life, changing demands in the labour market, and participation in the globalisation process are exerting a major influence on employment and workforce skills. This involves a shift in labour demand away from workers with lower skill levels to those with higher skill levels.
Because of these changes, individuals are increasingly required not only to have higher levels of education, but also the capacity to adapt, learn and master changes quickly and efficiently. This requires broad foundation skills that must be regularly updated and complemented with specific skills through training and lifelong learning processes. Literacy skills are critical in this context.
Developing a high skill work force is also important for firms and for countries. Firms require highly skilled employees to compete internationally, to adapt to new technologies and to attain higher levels of efficiency and productivity. Similarly, countries with higher levels of skills will adjust more effectively to challenges and opportunities opened up by globalisation.
The increase in demand for highly skilled workers is evident in many ways. In occupational terms, there has been a shift away from blue-collar jobs (labourers, transport and production workers) towards high-skill, white-collar positions, particularly in professional, technical, administrative and managerial occupations. And even within occupational categories, evidence indicates there has been an increase in job complexity and greater use of communication, social and problem solving skills. Changes in workplace organisation point in the same direction, as the growing number of firms using flexible workplace practices (such as team work and multi-skilling) tend to have more highly skilled and better educated workforces than firms organized along more traditional lines. Given the shift in demand towards highly skilled labour, the employment prospects for workers with lower levels of skill have deteriorated. This is evident in rising unemployment rates, lower levels of labour force participation and declines in real wages.
In this context, the literacy skills of individuals and of nations are an essential ingredient in the process of skills upgrading that accompanies the economic and social changes that are occurring in OECD countries. Bringing together data drawn from 20 countries, the findings of this report confirm the importance of skills for the effective functioning of labour markets and for the economic success and social advancement of both individuals and societies. They offer policy-makers new insights for crafting policies for lifelong learning that would contribute to economic and social progress.
Literacy in the Information Age is the final report from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), a comparative study of literacy skills in 20 countries: Australia, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The study provides the worlds first reliable and comparable estimates of the level and distribution of literacy skills in the adult population, and offers new insights into the factors that influence the development of adult skills at home and at work. The report is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Minister of Industry of the Government of Canada and the Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada. This Highlights Report was prepared by the National Literacy Secretariat, Human Resources Development Canada. Interested readers are encouraged to see the full report for more detail.
Defining and Measuring Literacy
Literacy is defined as the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community to achieve ones goals, and to develop ones knowledge and potential. In order to measure proficiency levels in the processing of information, IALS examined three literacy domains: prose, document and quantitative. For each domain, literacy proficiency was measured on a scale ranging from 0 to 500. The scale was then divided into five broad literacy levels.