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Citizen’s panel – Skills: building blocks for goals

A panel of European learners with different backgrounds discuss about adults' work place skills.

Five European learners with different backgrounds discuss what work skills mean for them.

Markus Palmén

Filifing Camara aims for a job as an information assistant. / Photo: ADPI


PIAAC makes the following central claims about adults’ work place skills:

  • There are wide gaps in skills between age groups.
  • In many countries a large part of adults lack basic skills in problem-solving in technology-rich environments (“computer skills”).
  • Adult education does not seem to reach those with already poor skills and there is a vicious circle of poor skills leading to few learning opportunities.
  • In most countries, immigrants with a foreign-language background have a significantly lower proficiency in all three measured categories than native-born adults.
  • Skills success depends increasingly on nonformal and informal learning.

What does a panel of European learners with different backgrounds have to say about these statements and, in comparison, on their own skills?

Christina Pernsteiner, 30, is an education researcher at the Grazer University, Austria. In her free time Christina studies languages at the adult education centre and learns sewing online.

Martina, 20, comes from the Czech Republic, and studies special education at the university of Ostrava. She specialises in canine and equine therapy. She is a disabled learner and her health problems require some extra planning of studies.

Barbora Romanova studies French translation at the same university as Martina and also has a handicap. She is an avid learner in her free time, attending public lectures and discussions.

Elin Green, 32, is a surveyor from Norway. She thinks she should brush up her programming skills.

Filifing Camara, 42, from Mali has lived in Paris for over six years. She is currently unemployed, with a working history as a cleaner and child-minder. She is currently taking a key-competences course with ADPI, an education association training migrants and disabled learners.

My most important work skills

Filifing: The skills I needed most in my previous work as cleaner are patience, professionalism and high-standards for results. By professionalism I mean that I have initiative, I am on time, and such things.

Martina: The skills I would mention in a future job interview would be that I am meticulous, hard-working and persevering.

Barbora: I would emphasise my curiosity and the ability to search for knowledge.

Christina: My three most important work skills are knowledge about the educational field and its research processes, teaching skills and project management skills. The foundation of my university career is research and teaching skills but the university professional increasingly seems to need project management acumen as research is often carried out as funded projects.

Elin: Management skills are important for me too but I also need to deal with our customers, so service comes into play. And very importantly computer skills. My work includes measuring property boundaries and developing online mapping services.

The panelists mention various arenas, from university to working life, where they have learned the skills they mention.

Martina and Barbora emphasise that they have learned their skills and work morale through life experiences.

Filifing had a nine-month training course for immigrants after coming to France. An internship in a kindergarten was included in the training. Filifing credits the training for building her work skills. After the training she landed a job as a cleaning lady in Paris schools.

For Elin, the working place and peer learning is where she has learned the skills she uses on a day-to-day basis.

Project management skills are a must for the university professional, thinks Christina Pernsteiner.

Building skills

All of the panelists have a clear idea of what skills they wish to develop further. The “wish list” has one thing in common: the desired skills are all related to a specific job, either a desired job or current employment. In a sense skills are building blocks of future goals and dreams.

Elin: I would like to brush up my programming skills. I also need to learn more about leadership. For me, paid leave from work would be a good incentive to take a course while working.

Christina: Yes, financial incentives is one way of promoting learning. Courses are often costly in Austria and I don’t spend money too easily on a course when I’m not sure about the quality and usefulness. Unfortunately the education market sometimes operates on false promises.

The other thing is to have the time to learn, especially if you are very busy with your daily life.And if you are surrounded by people who like to improve their work and share this knowledge – that is a motivator too!

Barbora: I feel that formal university studies do very little to give practical working skills! Our technical university is different, though. Anyway, I feel that I would have even an abundance of opportunity to learn more but because of my disability learning is slow for me.

Martina: I agree. I feel I am offered enough learning opportunities. Because of my decreased immunity and frequent illnesses I find it hard to meet the absence limits of my school. The school is flexible but I am worried about my future work place where my absenteeism might not be tolerated.

Filifing: Cleaning shifts are getting too long for me. I wish to work as an information assistant in the future so I will need to work on my social skills and to speak better French. I think I would need specific training for this but I haven’t looked seriously yet.

PIAAC pointed out that in many countries people with immigrant background may face more difficulties in keeping their skills up-to-date. Filifing agrees.

Filifing: In France, immigrants are not helped in finding a job. All the work I got were through my network. Most of my friends arrived in France and went directly in cleaning. We were never asked what we could do.

PIAAC found that skills development increasingly depends on nonformal and informal learning. All the panelists have some experience of nonformal learning.

Christina: Our local Styrian chamber of labour gives away a so called “Bildungsscheck” which is worth 60 Euros, and employees can use this money for courses at a local folk high school. Me and my partner use ours on a Spanish course. We both travel a lot and we want to learn another language besides English.

The latest thing I have started is to watch videos online about sewing and painting. This is just for my own enjoyment. I see learning as finding ways to extend your possibilities to act within the world you live in. I actually see learning happening all the time but maybe that is because I have the eyes of an educational scientist!

Filifing: For me, working as a child-minder was a similar experience. I took the children out and looked after them. I had no previous training but learned a lot through the parent’s written instructions. I used the skills I learnt later with my own children.

Of the panelists only Christina had heard about the PIAAC study through her work.

Christina: I wrote an article about the background and the aims of it years ago on the Austrian adult education website. As far as I know the results are out now. I haven’t got the time to read more about it, but I’m still interested.

Elin: This is the first time I hear about the study but I must say it doesn’t really interest me.

Barbora: Some of our politicians may be interested in people’s learning opportunities but generally they are more interested in other things.


The article was written into a panel format from individual interviews. It has been published first in ELM Magazine.

Author: Markus Palmén

Markus Palmén 

(MSc) is managing editor and acting editor-in-chief of Elm. Contact:


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