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Readiness for the learning economy: Insights from OECD's Survey of Adult Skills on Workforce Readiness and Preparation

In today’s global, technology-driven economy, education is critical to national competitiveness and individual opportunity.  Literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills are the foundation for how adults engage in the workplace, at home, and in the community. The Survey of Adults Skills, a new data collection effort led by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides useful insights for understanding the characteristics of the learning economy and the readiness of adults to prosper in this learning economy.  The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills enhances understanding of workplace readiness by offering assessments of proficiency (from low to high) on measures of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving with information technology tools -- critical cognitive and workplace skills -- for individuals in 24 participating countries and sub-national regions (OECD, 2013a).  As such, the findings have important implications for policy and practice.

In this report, we first discuss the importance of education and skills in the 21st century. Then we briefly describe the methodology for the survey and present key findings, focusing on skills of adults in the United States.  We conclude by identifying implications of the survey and its findings for policy and practice. 

Among the recommendations the report identifies for colleges and universities and other stakeholders:

  • Develop a common framework for adult basic education. Too often stakeholders seek to provide education in a variety of different settings—a common framework based on the OECD measurements could provide an overarching approach.
  • Promote stackable credentials. Giving adult learners the ability to document what they know while moving in and out of educational opportunities will help them move incrementally toward credentials.
  • Offer flexible scheduling and delivery options that provide students with work, family and other responsibilities easy access to education.
  • Leverage technology, such as adaptive software, that can that assess and target specific learning needs, and social media tools, which can help provide guidance and support.
  • Partner with employers in the development of workforce training and educational programs, as well as funding, and providing learners release time to learn.


American Council on Education

Research Team 

Louis Soares and Laura Perna

Press Coverage 

Inside Higher Ed, February 13, 2014: Effort to Build Adults' Skills Called a 'Team Sport' 

The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12, 2014: New Approaches Are Urged for Adult Education and Skills Training 


Soares, L., & Perna, L.W. (2014, February). Readiness for the learning economy: Insights from the OECD’s survey of adult skills on workforce readiness and preparation. Washington, DC: American Council on Education