Bridging the skills gap

by Kathrin Hoeckel
Analyst, Skills Beyond Schools Division, Directorate for Education

If you were to ask someone which countries tend to bear the brunt of a shortage of skills in this era of globalised trade, you couldn't fault them for thinking of developing countries.

While this is certainly true, the problem is by no means limited to poorer countries. Indeed, even in countries at the forefront of the developed world and consistently at the top of the PISA rankings, skills shortages can plague the economy.

Two such countries are Australia and Canada.

The Canadian Council on Learning says there is a clear “gap between the demand for workers with strong literacy and numeracy skills and the supply of Canadians who possess them.” They point out that the growth in the information communication technology industries, coupled with the reduced demand for unskilled workers due to foreign outsourcing, has only served to intensify the need for skilled workers. The question is why there is such a gap when Canadian teenagers do so well on tests such as PISA's. The answer, they posit, lies in the failure of adults to keep up with the “demands of the emerging knowledge society and information economy”. In other words, lifelong learning is as essential to a strong economy as successful schools (as can be seen in the OECD’s Education at a Glance statistics on adult participation in education and learning, job-related training is comparatively low in Canada).

Australian companies are also hard hit by the skills gap. The Australian Institute of Management recently released a study that found 82% of organisations admit to a skills shortage in their workplace, with middle management lacking particularly in leadership and technical skills.

Brian Schmidt, Australia's 2011 Nobel Prize winner for Physics, feels that a key problem is the lack of skilled teachers, particularly in maths and science. He points to the OECD’s Education at a Glance statistics on teacher salaries, which indicates that there tends to be a correlation between well paid teachers and students that excel.

The country's mining industry is suffering, in Mr Schmidt's opinion, from a direct consequence of this. He says that the industry's lack of highly trained engineers threatens the resource boom currently under way in Australia. He relates how the chair of the mining company BHP Billiton told him the biggest problem his company faces is finding highly skilled employees competent in mathematics.

The consequences could be dire for Australia. BHP Billiton predicts that the mining industry alone will require an additional 150 000 workers over the next five years.

Furthermore, Chris Evans, Australia's Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills, estimates that Australia will need over 2 million additional workers by 2015 with higher vocational education and training (VET) qualifications. To meet this challenge, Australia drew up ambitious plans just last year to improve its existing VET system (which, as Learning for Jobs: OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training shows, is already quite strong) by investing up to €15 billion by 2020.

In an altogether different region of the world, Latin America, the economic pain from the skills gap – evocatively known in Spanish as “la brecha”, or the breach – is also acutely felt. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), youth unemployment has increased across Latin America more than any other region in the world, and this can be directly attributed to young people lacking the skills required by the labour market. Not surprising when time and time again the research shows that poor skills go hand in hand with economic hardship.

In a study released earlier this month, the IDB stated that the youth in Latin America have a long way to go in developing the “interpersonal skills the market requires, such as responsibility, communication and creativity”. Its research shows that the majority of young workers across the region have informal jobs and lack social benefits.

One thing that is common to all these countries is that children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are disadvantaged when it comes to foundation skills in reading, mathematics and science (see OECD’s Education at a Glance statistics on equality in educational outcomes and opportunities). However, countries with the very best scores in PISA tend to have schools that are more inclusive. In other words, students can score well regardless of their socio-economic background. This in turn benefits the economy and society as a whole.

For if knowledge and skills are the global currency of the 21st century, countries will do well to stock up on their reserves. They can do so by encouraging people to learn, enticing skilled people to enter their countries, encouraging people to use and build their skills at work, retaining skilled people, matching skills to demand, and finally increasing the demand for high-level skills. That goes for economic heavyweights and flyweights alike.

Interested in learning more? Watch out for the OECD Skills Strategy, coming in May 2012, where we will lay the land for bridging the skills gap, turning brain drain into brain exchange, coping with ageing societies and declining skills pools and more.

OECD Skills Strategy
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Photo credit: © olly / Shutterstock

Women’s outcomes in education and employment: strong gains, but more to do

by Éric Charbonnier and Corinne Heckmann
Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

There’s no denying it: when it comes to education and employment, women are on a roll, all over the world.  As described in the latest issue of the OECD’s new brief series Education Indicators in Focus, the achievement gap between boys and girls has narrowed so much at lower levels of education that the focus of concern is now on the underachievement of boys.  On the 2009 PISA reading assessment, for example, 15-year-old girls outperformed boys in every OECD country, on average by 39 points – the equivalent of one year of school.

Young women are also making strong progress in higher education in OECD countries.  In 2000, 51% percent of women could be expected to enter a university-level programme at some point in their lives; today, the number is 66%.  In fact, the proportion of women who hold a university-level qualification now equals or exceeds that of men in 29 of the 32 OECD countries for which data are comparable. This figure is below 50% only in China, Japan, Korea and Turkey.

At the same time, still more can be done to improve outcomes for girls and young women in the classroom.  In mathematics, for example, 15-year-old boys tend to perform slightly better than girls in most countries, while science performance is more variable.  And in higher education, women remain under-represented at the most advanced levels.  Across all OECD countries, less than half of advanced research qualifications such as doctorates were awarded to women in 2009.  In Japan and Korea, the figure is only around 30%.  This pattern holds in all countries except Brazil, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and the United States.

In addition, some fields of study are still branded as “masculine” or “feminine”. In 2009, more than 70% of higher education students in the field of education were women, and an average of 75% of the degrees in the fields of health and welfare also went to women. By contrast, in most countries, fewer than 30% of all graduates in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction were women.

Nonetheless, women’s strides in education have led to improved labour market outcomes for women overall. For instance, the gender gap in employment narrowed from 25 percentage points in 2000 to 21 percentage points in 2009 among those without an upper secondary qualification, and from 19 percentage points in 2000 to 15 percentage points in 2009 among those with an upper secondary qualification. And it’s narrower still among those with a higher education qualification, shrinking from 11 percentage points in 2000 to 9 percentage points in 2009.

Increasingly, OECD countries are doing more to address gender gaps – both in education and employment.  For example, in the Czech Republic, Germany and the Slovak Republic, the proportion of women graduating with science degrees grew by more than 10 percentage points between 2000 and 2009.  As a result, these countries are now closer to the OECD average of 40% -- a figure that has remained stable over the past decade. In 2000, the European Union announced a goal to increase the number of university graduates in mathematics, science and technology by at least 15% by 2010, and to reduce the gender imbalance in these subjects. So far, however, progress toward this goal has been marginal.

On the employment side, the Nordic countries, Germany and Portugal have instituted policies allowing fathers to receive parental leave and income support so their spouses can remain in the workforce.  In Iceland, Norway and Spain, some firms are required to have at least 40% of their boardroom seats assigned to women. Meanwhile, other companies, such as Deutsche Telekom, have introduced voluntary quotas for women in management and family-friendly practices such as flex-times and tele-working.

The bottom line is clear: while girls and women have made strong gains, it’s time to finish the job.  To promote gender equality even further, policymakers should be encouraged to pursue policies to increase mathematics and science performance among girls – as well as reading achievement among boys.  Meanwhile, initiatives to break down gender stereotypes in fields of study and progressive corporate policies can do more to increase women’s employment opportunities.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus
OECD Gender Initiative
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: OECD Education Database

Teachers Summit highlights need for collective leadership

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

Yesterday was the first day of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City, co-hosted by the US Department of Education, Education International and the OECD. I was lucky enough to be an attendee, along with government and union representatives, teachers and school leaders from 24 countries around the world.

The theme of this year’s summit is Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders. All presentations and discussions at the summit are designed to give countries examples of high-performing systems that are successful in:
1. Placing high-quality teachers in the areas where there is the most need;
2. Preparing teachers to equip students with 21st century skills; and
3. Growing school leaders at scale.

Andreas Schleicher (who will be blogging later about the conclusions of the Summit) gave the first presentation of the summit using data from various OECD studies to frame the topics above, and then the first session started.  During the discussion, which was on school leadership, a teacher from one of the participating countries stood up to comment. She had won many national and local awards in her country, and as such had been invited by her country’s government to attend the Summit both last year and this year. However, the school leader at her school would not give her permission to attend. Last year, she just stayed home from the Summit and taught. This year, she used her personal holiday time and came to New York City. She just wanted to tell attendees how meaningful it was to know that these discussions about and for teachers were happening, and that government and union leaders at the highest levels were concerned and actively working toward things like developing better systems of collaborative leadership at schools.

As a former teacher myself, this was also what struck me about the Summit after the first day: every country in that room is committed to improve the quality of teaching, learning and leadership in their schools. It also became clear that the international sharing of practice that happens at gatherings such as this one does make a difference when delegates return home. Country representatives gave examples of learnings they had taken both from last year’s Summit and from visits to schools in other countries. They asked questions of each other to learn more about what made success possible.

Today’s sessions will be about teachers, and there will be time for country groups to reflect and plan together. We will be live tweeting on @OECDLive and will be streaming the closing session live.

International Summit on the Teaching Profession
Background report: Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the world
OECD publications on teachers
Follow the summit on twitter @OECDLive #ISTP2012
Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis
Photo credit: © casejustin / Shutterstock

A View from the Teachers’ Summit

By John Bangs
Special consultant on OECD issues forEducation International, the global body for all teachers’ organisations

I have two hopes for this summit: The fact that thenumber of countries and unions participating in the summit this year is up by athird compared with last year reflects the increasing understanding that it isteacher policies that matter. Their ability, their confidence and theirself-efficacy are crucial. I hope that the kind of dead-end discussion abouthow choice and the market yield better performance begins to fade away.

My second hope is that the Dutch government continuesthis summit in 2013 as it has offered to do, and that we continue to buildgreater dialogue into the summit. South Africa is attending as an observercountry this year. This is absolutely the right thing to do: to invitecountries that are determined to improve their education systems to enter thedialogue with those whose education systems have improved, to encourage adialogue between developed and developing countries. There is the dawningrealisation that you cannot improve without dialogue; you have to be constantlylearning.

Look at the controversy about teacher evaluations. Wediscussed this issue during last year’s summit. If you learn from places likeFinland, Singapore and Hong Kong, you see that enhancing teachers’self-efficacy and capacity is the way to go. That is done among colleagues andpeers. The issue of pay and punishment are not central to driving performance;and publicising the results of individual teacher evaluations is insane. Thereis a better model—which is about development, not punishment.

Unions are essential participants at the summit.Strong teachers’ unions are an engine, not a hindrance, to reform. The successof the last year’s summit has really put the critics who say that teachers’unions are inevitably the obstacles to reform on the back foot. They’re stillthere, they’re still wrong, and they’re on the defensive. This kind of summitbrings the words ‘social partnership’ centre stage. The breadth of knowledgethat unions can contribute to the dialogue has been highly underestimated bygovernments. Through Education International, for example, unions have beenengaged in deep and fundamental exchanges of information about educationsystems. Governments often have short institutional memories about what worksin education reform; unions have enormous resources and have long institutionalmemories. Unions can give governments the knowledge capital to work with.

I’m particularly fascinated by two areas that we’ll bediscussing in this year’s summit. One is leadership; and I’m glad the agendahas shifted from focusing only on school principals to the understanding thatall teachers can show leadership.  Thesecond is on 21st century skills: What do students and teachers need to know? Howdo we evaluate them? That, I’m sure, will make for an absolutely fascinatingdiscussion.

OECD Pointer for Policy Makers on Improving School Leadership: Policy and Practice
OECD publications on teachers
Follow the summit on twitter #ISTP2012
 Photo credit: © Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Lessons in learning, amid the rubble

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

A school band played for us. It was the best school band I’ve ever heard—and I’ve heard many. It was the true image of hope, team spirit and positive attitudes. For the students, it was the welcome experience of normality.

A brass band playing in the midst of vast devastation; a landscape that reminded me of street scenes from my childhood in Germany after the war. But this was just one week ago, in Japan, during a visit to the area torn apart by the earthquake and tsunami a year ago today. I went there to participate in the launch of the Japan edition of our Strong Performers, Successful Reformers series and to discuss the OECD’s Tohoku School project with local partners.

This is a project whereby students learn through doing. In this case, they are planning an international event, scheduled to be held in 2014 in Paris, to attract visitors to the devastated Tohoku region of Japan. To do this, they will need to acquire and use very specific skills, but ones that still aren’t commonly taught in classrooms: critical thinking, creativity, teamwork. They will have to think and act like entrepreneurs: create a plan, develop it and see it through.

PISA results show that students who are motivated perform better in school than students who aren’t; and project-based learning is a great motivator. The students participating in this project are given real-life tasks to perform to accomplish their goals and they learn while doing those tasks.

These children are learning these skills in dramatic circumstances; but these are skills that all children, everywhere, need to learn to participate fully in 21st-century societies. Students around the world need the confidence to not just accept what they have seen around them during their childhoods, but to be bold and courageous and try new things, consider professions for themselves that aren’t customary in their families or even in their regions. Every child should have the confidence to think big—have big dreams, big ambitions—and both teachers and parents should help to instil this confidence in their children.

The responsibility for education does not only lie in the hands of government and enterprises, it also lies in the hands of individuals. To be committed to lifelong learning is the solution. We want to plant this seed in the Tohoku School and elsewhere, so that schools teach students the skills they need to become lifelong learners. Indeed, one of the main messages of the OECD’s Skills Strategy, which will be unveiled in May, is that to thrive in the global knowledge-based economy, we all need to become lifelong learners.

The children and teachers I met in the Tohoku region understand the value of learning. I found evidence of that in an unlikely place: a non-descript building next to a temple that had been claimed by an enterprising local NGO as a study room. The room seemed to absorb the temple’s spiritual atmosphere and comforting silence. It is where displaced students could go to prepare for their school entrance exams. These students are living with their families in one-room temporary housing; were it not for this space, they would have had no other quiet place in which they could concentrate on their studies. The teachers there were coaching the students, mentoring them. You see small gestures like this and you feel that something is coming back: flowers are blooming, spring is unfolding.

Video series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education
Photo: Japanese cherry - sakura flowers. Petals of cherry blossoms on the water surface as a sign of sorrow and sympathy to the Japan after by floods and earthquakes. 
Photo credit: Repina Valeriya / Shutterstock

Knowledge and skills are infinite – oil is not

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General
As the bible notes, Moses arduously led the Jews for 40 years through the desert – just to bring them to the only country in the Middle East that had no oil. But Moses may have gotten it right, after all. Today, Israel has an innovative economy and its population enjoys a standard of living most of its oil-rich neighbours don't offer. More generally, countries with greater total rents from natural resources tend to be economically and socially less developed, as exports of national resources tend to appreciate the currency, making imports cheap and the development of an industrial base more difficult. And as governments in resource-rich countries are under less pressure to tax their citizens they are more prone to autocratic leadership.

But there is more to this: OECD’s PISA study shows that there is also a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their school population (see figure): Israel is not alone in outperforming its oil-rich neighbors by a large margin when it comes to learning outcomes at school, this is a global pattern that generally across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment. Exceptions such as Canada, Australia and Norway, that are rich of natural resources but still score well on PISA, have all established deliberate policies of saving these resource rents, and not just consuming them. Today’s learning outcomes at school, in turn, are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.

One interpretation is that in countries with little in the way of natural resources - other examples are Finland, Singapore or Japan - education has strong outcomes and a high status at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education. So the value that a country places on education seems to depend at least in part on a country’s view of how knowledge and skills fit into the way it makes its living. Placing a high value on education may be an underlying condition for building a world-class education system and a world class economy, and it may be that most countries that have not had to live by their wits in the past will not succeed economically and socially unless their political leaders explain why, though they might not have had to live by their wits in the past, they must do so now.

The most troubling implications of these data relate to the developing world. Many of the countries with below-average GDP succeeded to convert their national resources into physical capital and consumption today, but failed to convert these into the human capital that can generate the economic and social outcomes to sustain their future.

But there is an important message for the industrialised world too. Particularly in these times of economic difficulties, it is tempting to resource our standard of living today through incurring even greater financial liabilities for the future. But in the long term, there is no way to stimulate our way out or to print money our way out. The only sustainable way is to grow our way out, and that requires giving more people the skills to compete, collaborate and connect in ways that drive our economies forward. Without sufficient investment in skills people languish on the margins of society, technological progress does not translate into productivity growth, and countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

In short, knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st century economies. But there is no central bank that prints this currency, you cannot inherit this currency and you cannot produce it through speculation, you can only develop it through sustained effort and investment by people and for people.

Moreover, this new ‘currency’ depreciates as skill requirements of labor-markets evolve and individuals lose the skills they do not use. The toxic coexistence of high unemployment and skill shortages in many countries today illustrates that producing more of the same graduates is not the answer. To succeed with converting knowledge and skills into jobs, growth and social outcomes which nations require, we need to develop a better understanding of those skills that drive strong and sustainable economic and social outcomes; we need to ensure that the right mix of skills is being taught and learned over the lifecycle of people; we need to develop effective labor-markets that use their skill potential; and we need better governance arrangements with sustainable approaches to who should pay for what, when and where. OECD’s new Skills Strategy is now providing a framework to support countries with building, maintaining and using their human capital to boost employment and growth and promote social inclusion.
Figure: The negative relationship between national resources and skills
OECD Skills Strategy
Presentation: Skills matter: Developing an OECD Skills Strategy
Follow Andreas Schleicher on twitter @SchleicherEDU
Photo credit: © diez artwork / Shutterstock

How do we keep new teachers teaching?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

In many countries, we read stories in the media about large numbers of teachers – up to half in some countries – leaving the teaching profession before their first five years of teaching are finished. This statistic, exaggerated or not, is often followed by questions such as these:
  • Why are new teachers leaving the profession – seemingly in droves?
  • Does this mean that the government is wasting money training new teachers who leave before five years?
  • What happens to the consistency and institutional knowledge and experience in schools if teachers are constantly leaving and more new teachers are arriving?
And finally
  • What kind of support can be provided to new teachers to prevent them from leaving the profession?
The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) at the OECD looked at the responses of new teachers (those with two years or less of teaching experience) from the TALIS 2008 survey and has produced a new report The Experience of New Teachers: Results from TALIS 2008. Teachers and their principals reported on the teaching and learning environment of their schools and classrooms, focusing on issues such as classroom climate, the amount of time spent on classroom management as compared to actual teaching and learning, the kinds of early support new teachers receive, as well as the ongoing professional development opportunities offered.

One of the issues that is often cited as a reason for new teachers leaving the profession before five years is that new teachers are placed in more difficult schools than their more experienced colleagues. The TALIS report found that this is simply not true. Despite research that has led to a widespread belief that new teachers work in harder conditions (or harder-to-staff schools), on average across TALIS 2008 countries, new teachers report that their students have similar language and socioeconomic backgrounds to the students of more experienced teachers.New teachers also work in schools with similar material and personnel resources, measured by their impact on teaching and learning.

Although new teachers may not be in more challenging schools, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have challenges in the area of classroom management. The report finds that new teachers spend less time on teaching and learning of any kind and more time than experienced teachers on keeping order in the classroom. This is a worrying trend for both the students of these teachers, who are not getting the same quality learning experience as their peers might be, and for the teachers themselves, who report significantly lower levels of self-efficacy than their more experienced colleagues.

I won’t give away all of the intriguing results here; the Experience of New Teachers report is available online and we will be talking about it further on Twitter in the coming weeks . For those lucky few who are attending the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City this week, there will be printed copies on hand. One of the topics that will be discussed at the Summit is the preparation of new teachers, and we will see examples of countries that are doing this well, and at scale. Stay tuned for more blog posts and Tweets (#ISTP2012) from the Summit this week.

For more on the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey:
The Experience of New Teachers: Results from TALIS 2008
Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis
Photo credit: © oliveromg / Shutterstock