U.S. Low-Skilled Adults Rank Below International Averages in Literacy and Numeracy

U.S. Low-Skilled Adults Rank Below International Averages in Literacy and Numeracy

Last autumn, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international coalition that promotes the economic and social well-being of people around the world, released two reports detailing research around global adult skills and providing analysis of low-skilled adults in the U.S.  You can access the reports at the U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom.

The results are striking, shining a spotlight on an emerging crisis that close to 36 million adults do not possess adequate education, training, and skills to support a 21st century economy fueled by technology and complex problem solving.  In fact, low-skilled U.S. adults score well below the international average in key areas of literacy and numeracy.

The OECD’s analysis of U.S. adults revealed a lack of English language skills is a key contributor to low literacy scores.  Limited access to ESL programs at community colleges and other education centers, as well as constrained federal, state, and local funding to support these programs, add to the challenges adults face when managing and negotiating family and work schedules as they seek to get the education and support they need to improve their skills.

Earlier this month, Skylab Learning participated in two summits organized by the Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), one in northern California and a second in Massachusetts, to help inform a national action plan to address the growing need to re-skill adults; similar summits were also organized with leaders from state and local communities, universities, and business in and around Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.  The national engagement process is detailed at OVAE’s “A Time to Re-Skill.”

During conversations at these summits, we emphasized our belief that technology can and should play a role in helping to remodel instruction for adult learners, making it more relevant, engaging, and practical for a population that faces innumerable barriers to success.  We’ve suggested and have undertaken a mission to create game-based learning products and services adults can access 24-7 on technologies they have, literally, in hand: smartphones and tablet computing devices.

We also believe companies can play a significant role in supporting adult learners by highlighting the valuable context of the workplace to spark ESL skill development and potential career paths employees can pursue with improved language and basic skills.  Increasing access to ESL and basic skills education and training requires a broad range of champions, public and private, to address the needs of 36 million Americans.  In collaboration with companies in industries such as hospitality, food service, retail, transportation, and health care, we aim to play a significant role in expanding opportunities for low-skilled adult workers while enabling businesses to reduce costs for hiring, training, and retaining productive workforces in a new economy.