Skip to main content

Education and Training, New Job Skill needs and the Low-Skilled

Exploitable results

Main findings of the project are the following: - The ISCED classification adopted: Since the aim of the project was to establish the extent of low skills in a range of European countries, we first needed to agree on a definition, which could serve the needs of our research. For the purposes of quantitative analysis, we needed an agreed basis for the assignment of each country¿s qualifications as recorded in the national surveys to be used in our work. The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was the obvious choice. - Selecting a proxy for low skills: On the ISCED scale the 0-1 group is defined as those having complete or incomplete primary education or incomplete lower secondary education as their highest qualification. Since this group consists of individuals who have had very restricted educational opportunities, we tested to ascertain whether the ISCED 0-1 group would be suitable as a proxy for low skills. Differences between countries in proportions at ISCED 0-1 were very great and varied between countries. At one extreme, Germany had around 5 per cent at this level while Portugal had nearly 50 per cent. We next examined the ISCED 0-2 group (which includes ISCED 0-1) but adds all those with complete lower secondary education. We found that differences between countries in proportions at this level persisted but that these were not so extreme as for ISCED 0-1. Evidence from the OECD (Employment Outlook 1997) showed large differences in likelihood of employment by ISCED level; in particular the ISCED 0-2 group had a much lower likelihood of employment than the ISCED 3 group. For all these reasons it was decided not to restrict the low skills group to ISCED 0-1 but to identify the low skills group as the group classified in each country to ISCED 0-2. This restricted the group to all those who had left formal full-time education after completion of the period of compulsory education. - ISCED 0-2 and International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) scores: Using the IALS skills measures as a calibrating instrument it was found that ISCED levels were correlated with IALS to a similar degree across countries. This increased our confidence that our skills measures were at least reasonably consistent across countries. Most of those at IALS Level 1 were found in the ISCED 0-2 category and two thirds of those at ISCED 0-2 were at IALS Levels 1 and 2. This suggests that, while the ISCED 0-2 category is far from homogeneous - for every country, the standard deviation of IALS scores was largest within the ISCED 0-2 group - a large majority of those grouped at this level perform at the IALS levels recognised as the most basic. However, it should not be forgotten that in that in every country some of those classified to this level hold middle and high-level jobs; in all countries half or over half are in employment. But there are large between-country differences in the size and - linked with size - the composition of the ISCED 0-2 group. - Attainments on completion of ISCED 2 stage of education: A secondary analysis of scores from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was carried out as part of the work of testing the reliability of the ISCED proxy for low skills. In this analysis basic mathematics skill levels at the end of compulsory education in the European countries in the NEWSKILLS study were compared in order to benchmark the ISCED 0-2 level in Europe against a world best standard and to assess how adequate the European ISCED 0-2 attainments in basic skills might be for modern working life. It was estimated that only in Sweden and France would performance approach that of the benchmark country (Singapore) with at least 90 per cent of all 16 year olds able to answer half of thirty basic mathematics questions from the TIMSS study. It was estimated that for other countries - Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK - 90 per cent correct answers could be provided for only a quarter of the test questions at age 16. The findings of this study support the view that, for a substantial proportion of those who leave education at the end of the ISCED 2 stage (ie. at the end of compulsory education), basic mathematics skills are likely to be inadequate for employability and as a basis for future skills upgrading.