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A Brief Assessment of Adults’ Skills in Turkey: Results from Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

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The Survey of Adults’ Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), provides a useful source of information on adults’ proficiency in three key information-processing skills: literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills in technology-rich environments . The first round of the PIAAC covers 24 countries and Turkey was included later in the second round along with eight countries. In the PIAAC survey, individuals are tested through numerous tasks at various difficulty levels, which are attributed to a total score ranging from 0 to 500 points. Among the OECD countries, Turkey ranks the second last after Chile with the lowest score in both literacy and numeracy skills. While the performance of adults in OECD countries are mostly grouped at the levels 2 and 3 (out of 5 levels of proficiency), adults in Turkey are concentrated at levels 1 and 2 which indicates that individuals in Turkey do not have the adequate set of skills against complex tasks and problems and perform poorly at problem solving. One striking observation is that literacy skills are relatively less developed than numeracy skills compared to OECD country averages. If we compare mean scores of educational levels, it is noteworthy to see that marginal improvement of tertiary level in Turkey significantly smaller compared to other OECD countries. This improvement is slightly better at numeracy skills, which is rather intuitive, given the fact that numeracy is regarded as a key element and more important factor in student assessment at all education levels in Turkey. Both in literacy and numeracy skills, individuals with tertiary education in Turkey perform the same as individuals with secondary education in the OECD countries. In terms of generational differences, while the youngest generation (16-24) performs better than age group 25-34, their proficiency level is still significantly lower than OECD average. For gender gap at proficiencies, we observe that decreasing educational gender gap among younger generations reduces the gender gap at skill proficiencies as well and the gender gap in younger generation is not so different from OECD averages. The PIAAC survey provides information on frequency of using skills at work and in daily life, along with proficiency levels. Results of skill use show that Turkey is the only country having an average score of less than 2 points (between never and less than once in a month) in use of writing and reading skills. Although frequency of using numeracy skills is slightly above 2 points, it is still far behind the OECD average score of 2.51 points (more than once in a month and less than once in a week). Given that the level cooperation, coordination and communication at work place are related to frequent use of writing and reading skills (writing and reading reports, instructions etc.), limited usage of skill at work place might indicate lower productivity. Low level of skill use in the labour market might also reflects that skill use at work yields poor returns; thereby individuals prefer not to invest heavily in those skills. Accordingly, the PIAAC data shows that among the factors explaining worker’s compensation, the share of skill proficiency is considerably smaller in Turkey compared to other OECD countries. Nevertheless, the relation between skills and labour market should be evaluated within a broader context to include structural and institutional factors such as dominance of small firms, relatively lower share of wage-earners (below the OECD average), limited employment share of technology and knowledge intense industries in total employment. Adults in Turkey lack the skill proficiency required for sophisticated information processing task compared to the OECD countries and can only perform simple tasks requiring relatively low skills. Despite efforts in supporting and expanding education in levels, the training and education system can barely upgrade adults’ skills in Turkey. Findings of the PIAAC survey reveal that the improvement in quantity should be complemented with progress in quality in Turkey. Moreover, low returns to skills put more emphasis on institutional issues concerning the structure of labour demand. Lack of incentives in firms could be a factor restricting skill development of workers and could lead to low investment in skill upgrading.

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Úda(i)r Acmhainne
Furkan Kavuncu, Sezgin Polat
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