In a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that encompassed 33 nations worldwide, important workplace skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) were compared.
The survey revealed that poor skills among a nation’s workforce severely stunted its ability to improve living standards. Especially important were the findings that a lack of such workplace skills causes difficulties in introducing new ways of working and better technology.
What the survey also highlighted was that a nation can quickly upgrade its economic progress by improving the education system. Such is the case with one of the newer countries in the survey, Singapore.
Singapore’s older population (those nearing retirement) was found to be severely lacking in their ability to understand complex texts and using numeracy skills to solve tasks.
Only a few generations later, thanks to improvements in Singapore’s education system, the numerical ability of young adults in the country now ranks first worldwide. Percentages of those completing tertiary education have risen dramatically for young adults in Singapore: 74 percent of young adults have completed higher education, compared with only 21 percent of those aged 55-65.
Contrast this with England, where the gap between the work place skills for older and younger generations is non-existent. Oddly enough, education opportunities in England have expanded considerably over the years, and show an increase in the percentage of those completing secondary education (65 percent aged 55-65, 83 percent aged 25-34). So, even as more educational opportunities have been available to England’s young adults, there has not been much of an appreciable rise in workplace skills.
However, expanding learning opportunities isn’t the only elixir for a nation’s economic woes. The quality, and focus, of a nation’s schools plays a huge role in determining whether their young adults will be equipped to participate in an ever-changing worldwide economic climate.
By tailoring educational systems to prepare citizens for the modern workplace, countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Canada have created a more equitable gain among their populace. Information about adult education opportunities have been made easier to find and work through. Also, previously learned skills are being recognized and certified among older learners, which creates a positive atmosphere for those wanting to continue their education.
Even as a country strives to improve its workforce through expanded and improved education, many nations lack the guidance necessary to match the skills of their workforce to appropriate jobs. What those countries have discovered is that too many adults are employed in jobs that are either too advanced, or not advanced enough, for the worker’s educational level. The results have been found to severely impede the ability of workers to thrive and produce.
For all the emphasis on education and skills needed for a competent workforce, if a nation’s economy isn’t evolving to keep in step with worldwide developments, those workers may not be able to advance to their full potential.
In the case of Greece, their young adults score higher on numeracy tests, compared to Americans, but because their nation’s economy is stagnant, there are few opportunities for young Greeks to exploit, once they’ve completed their education.
Japan is another example of a nation with high literacy and numeracy test scores, but because of a staid, sexist, working environment, Japanese workers are unable to take full advantage of their skills.
Where Singapore gets it right, is in efforts to bring education, focus, guidance, and economic opportunities together for its workforce. Simply put, the country develops high standards for education (with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy) and then allow their educated workforce to thrive in an appropriate working environment, where there is promise and room for advancement.
According to the OECD report, the government, educational system, employers, and individuals have all made great strides in creating a positive, growing, economic system. As a result, the economic prospects for Singapore look to be positive for the foreseeable future.