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SKILLS BEYOND EDUCATION An analysis of cognitive skill evolution and its implications for employment chances

Skills are at the core of improving individuals’ employment outcomes and increasing countries productivity and growth while ensuring social cohesiveness. This is particularly relevant as today’s global competition is characterized by a higher share of knowledge-based content which heavily relies on high-level cognitive and behavioral skills. The 1994-1998 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the 2012 Survey on Adult Skills (PIAAC) are unique datasets providing measures of individual cognitive skills for a representative sample of the adult age population across a number of OECD countries using methods of educational testing jointly with household survey techniques. Thus, they offer an exceptional opportunity to better understand how cognitive skills have evolved and how they are likely to influence our lives now and in the future, particularly in what refers to employment chances. The aim of this technical report is threefold: (1) to analyse the current levels and distribution of skills in the working-age population of the sixteen Member States which participated in PIAAC; (2) to investigate to what extent these skills are important for labour market success; and (3) to examine how individuals (and the population) gain, lose and preserve their cognitive skills over time. To further complement this empirical evidence, we investigate the employment dynamics with respect to economic factors. The observed trends go in the direction of a concentration of employment in sectors which are more likely to require a higher educational level and consequently a higher level of skills. With all the caveats in mind, the reasoning behind this simple exercise is to grow awareness about the need to reinforce skills, and desirably, anticipate skills needs, through both efficient education policies and active labour market programs, including training.