International experts gathered at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) this week to compare how leading economies were supporting their workforces with the basic skills needed to secure long-term employment.

The conference, ‘Improving basic skills: An international perspective on a UK dilemma’, is part of a government programme of research and coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by BIS to understand more about how England can improve the basic skills of its workforce.

Skills Minister Nick Boles, who attended the conference, said:

“Good literacy and numeracy skills are vital if people are to fulfil their potential and to find and sustain employment. Sharing knowledge with other countries on how to improve basic skills levels is very important, and the OECD again demonstrates that a skilled workforce is central to a vibrant economy.

“Our long-term economic plan is working and it’s vital that we continue to provide people with the skills they need for work to help secure future growth.”

The research looked at basic skills delivery in four case study countries (the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and South Korea), to identify lessons for England. The report shows a direct link between the overall performance of leading economies, and the proportion of young people still in education or education and work.

The research findings demonstrate a similar focus in the case-study countries on workplace provision of basic skills, identifying a need for more provision of basic skills development throughout all stages of learning. This had a generational effect, with the level of parents’ education having a particularly strong impact on the skills levels of young people in England.

A 2012 OECD report identified the need for improved education rates among young people in England and since then key government policies have generated significant improvements. For example, last year the number of 16-18-year-old students taking English GCSE increased by 53 percent (or 52,000) and maths GCSE by 36 percent (or 63,000). In the 2013 to 2014 academic year 951,800 adults aged 19 or over participated in government funded English and/or maths courses.

The conference coincides with a week-long visit to England by OECD officials to assess skills provision and comparisons to other leading economies.