Getting Skills Right: Engaging Low Skilled Workers (2019)

This article is one of a series produced for the OECD and which can be found at


Globalisation, technological progress and demographic change are having a profound impact on the world of work. These mega-trends are affecting the number and quality of jobs that are available, how they are carried out and the skills that workers will need in the future to succeed in the labour market. Although the timing and the speed of these developments differ across countries, it is expected that skill needs will continue to change, possibly at an accelerated pace, in the coming decades affecting advanced, emerging and developing countries alike.

While these changes in the world of work affect everyone, adults with low skills are most at risk of experiencing a deterioration in their labour market prospects. The demand for their skills is decreasing, as many jobs they traditionally do are automated or off-shored in advanced economies. OECD research shows that occupations that require no specific skills and training have the highest risk of being automated. At the same time, adults with low skills often have limited opportunities to develop their skills further through education and training. Many find themselves caught in a ‘low-skills trap’, in low-level positions with limited opportunities for development and on-the-job learning, and experiencing frequent and sometimes prolonged spells of unemployment.

Therefore, addressing the specific training barriers of low-skilled adults is imperative for them to progress in the labour market and access better jobs. This booklet highlights seven action points to create more and better learning opportunities for adults with low skills. It provides practical insights for stakeholders who are directly involved with engaging low-skilled adults in learning, including policy-makers, learning providers and the social partners. Each action point draws on research evidence and provides insights on how it can be translated into practice by highlighting promising policies in OECD and emerging countries.

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