Education, skills and productivity: commissioned research - Business, Innovation and Skills and Education Committees Contents


France

2. Cross-country differences in workforce skills

Because of their intangible nature, skills are hard to measure. Over the years researchers have used several different proxy measures of skill, for example, years of completed schooling which is a measure of attendance rather than attainment. Here we make use of formal qualifications measures which have the advantage of capturing something of what has actually been learned while undergoing education rather than just signifying attendance. However, like the years of schooling measure, they have the disadvantage of neglecting skills acquired in the workplace without formal certification. We examine available evidence on training of this kind in Section 5 below.

Table 2.1 compares the mix of workforce qualifications in the UK, US, France and Germany in 2012 with that found ten years earlier. In 2002 the 21% graduate share in the UK had started to reflect the transition to mass higher education which began in the late 1980s but it was still 8 percentage points below the graduate share in the US where mass higher education was already well established. After ten more years of new graduate entrants to the UK workforce, as well as non-graduate departures from it, the UK graduate share rose to a third in 2012, much the same as in the US and well above the 19% and 23% graduate shares in, respectively, France and Germany.

It should be noted that graduate-level courses vary across countries in the extent to which they have a predominantly theoretical or applied focus, and in the extent to which classroom studies are combined with practical experience. In the case of Germany, long-established graduate-level courses of a practical or occupation-specific nature in Fachhochschulen ('universities of applied sciences') operate in parallel with traditional, more 'academic' university courses. Fachhochschulen account for roughly a third of higher education students in Germany.[2] Their graduates are traditionally well regarded by German employers for their 'employability' skills and have few counterparts in the UK, US and France; we return to issues of graduate employability in Section 3.Table 2.1: Employment analysed by qualification group share, France, Germany, UK and US, 2002 and 2012
Germany
UK
US
% of all persons in employment aged 18-64
2002
Graduates
12
18
21
29
Above NVQ Level 3, below Bachelor degree level
11
11
9
9
NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent — vocational
39
58
23
-
NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent — general
10
6
29
-
Some college, no degree (US)
-
-
-
20
High school graduate (US)
-
-
-
31
Low or no qualifications
28
7
18
10
Total
100
100
100
100
2012
Graduates
19
23
33
34
Above NVQ Level 3, below Bachelor degree level
15
11
11
11
NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent - vocational
35
55
22
-
NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent — general
9
6
26
-
Some college, no degree (US)
-
-
-
20
High school graduate (US)
-
-
-
27
Low or no qualifications
22
5
9
8
Total
100
100
101
100

Sources: Enquête-Emploi (France), Socio-Economic Panel (Germany), Labour Force Survey (UK), Current Population Survey (US)

Note re classification of qualifications:

1. Graduates:

France: Bac + 3 or more years of study, eg, License, Maitrise, Doctorat.

Germany: Fachhochschulabschluss, Hochschulabschluss and higher qualifications.

UK: First degrees and higher degrees.

US: Bachelor degrees and higher degrees.

2. Above Level 3, below Bachelor degree level:

France: BTS, DUT; Paramédical ou social avec baccalauréat general; Paramédical ou social sans baccalauréat general.

Germany: Meister-/Techniker oder gleichwertiger Fachschulabschluss; Abschluss einer 2- oder 3jährigen Schule des Gesundheitswesens; Abschluss an einer Fach- oder einer Berufsakademie; Abschluss der Fachschule in der ehemaligen DDR; Beamtenausbildung.

UK: Foundation degrees, Higher National awards, sub-degree qualifications in teaching and nursing and equivalent awards; Diplomas in Higher Education and other higher education qualifications below Bachelor degree level.

US: Associates degrees.

3. NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent — vocational:

France: Baccalauréat technologique, BAC pro. et brevet professionnel; BEI, BEC, BEA; CAP, BEP, et BEPC; CAP, BEP seul.

Germany: Anlernausbildung oder berufliches Praktikum; Berufsvorbereitungsjahr; Abschluss einer Lehrausbildung; Vorbereitungsdienst für den mittleren Dienst in der öffentlichen Verwaltung; Berufsqualifizierender Abschluss an einer Berufsfachschule/Kollegschule; Abschluss einer 1jährigen Schule des Gesundheitswesens.

UK: BTEC National awards, City & Guilds advanced craft and craft awards, completed trade apprenticeships and equivalent awards; BTEC General and First awards; City & Guilds awards below craft level; SCOTVEC National Certificate modules; YT, YTP certificates and equivalent awards.

Notes to Table 2.1 (continued):

4. NVQ Levels 2-3 or equivalent — general:

France: Baccalauréat général et diplôme technique secondaire; Baccalauréat général seul.

Germany: Realschulabschluss, Abitur.

UK: A level, A-S level, Scottish CSYS, Scottish Higher and equivalent awards; GNVQ Advanced awards, GCSE grade A-C, O level, CSE grade one and equivalent Scottish awards; GNVQ Intermediate and Foundation awards; and equivalent awards.

At intermediate qualification levels—between university graduates and workers with low or no formal qualifications—several inter-country contrasts stand out:

(1) the relatively large share of French employees with technician-level qualifications (below Bachelor degrees, above NVQ3 level) which reflects the prevalence in France of short-cycle higher education courses leading to qualifications such as the BTS (Brevet de technicien supérieur, Advanced Technician Certificate) and the DUT (Dipl¼me universitaire de technologie, University Technical Diploma).

(2) the relatively large and stable share (58% in 2002, 55% in 2012) of the German workforce holding intermediate vocational qualifications (mostly at the equivalent of NVQ Level 3) which largely reflects the strong German tradition of apprenticeship training.

(3) the UK's relatively large share of general education qualifications at NVQ Levels 2-3 which contrasts with the much greater emphasis on vocational education and training at these intermediate levels in both Germany and France.

At the equivalent of NVQ Levels 2-3, the US cannot be compared directly with the other three countries because of differences in education and certification systems. A fifth of US workers are classed as having attended college after high school without obtaining a formal diploma but a large share of these people may still have acquired useful vocational skills in the process (Marcotte, 2006). In 2012 another 27% of the US adult population held high school graduation diplomas but had not participated in formal education above that level. The majority of these people will have acquired general skills but not vocational skills during their high school education since vocational education programmes (traditionally followed by a minority of high school students) have been in sharp decline since the early 1990s (Cappelli, 2015).

As in the UK, the American emphasis on general skills development is not necessarily a disadvantage in terms of economic performance since general (or 'generic') skills such as communication and mathematical skills are sought after by employers for many purposes. Indeed, Krueger and Kumar (2004) develop a model of technology adoption and economic growth which suggests that general or academic education may be better suited to developing the skills needed to adapt to fast-changing technologies than is specialised vocational education.

However, in both the US and UK, any advantages deriving from general education may only apply towards the upper end of the skills spectrum. International comparisons of mathematics proficiency levels based on the OECD's 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (SAS) suggest that in both countries proficiency in numeracy was significantly below average among 23 participating countries (OECD, 2013, Figure 2.5). The SAS assesses proficiency in numeracy at six different levels (described in the notes to Figure 2.1) which range from the use of basic arithmetic skills (at 'Below Level 1' and Level 1 itself) to the interpretation and use of basic statistics at Level 3 and the use of progressively more complex mathematical procedures at Levels 4 and 5.

Figure 2.1 shows that an estimated 11% of 16-65 year olds in England/Northern Ireland (representing the UK) and 8% in the US attained Levels 4 or 5 which placed England/NI at 14th and the US 16th among the 23 countries. France also compared poorly on this measure (ranking 18th) while, of the four countries considered here, Germany fared best, ranking 8th with 14% of 16-65 year olds attaining Levels 4 or 5 in mathematical proficiency. [3] At the lower end of the scale it is notable that as many as 29% of 16-65 year olds in the US, 28% in France and 24% in England were graded as Level 1 or Below Level 1.Figure 2.1: Numeracy proficiency among 16-65 year olds, 2012, France, Germany, UK and US

Source: Survey of Adult Skills, 2012 (OECD, 2013, data underlying Figure 2.5)

Notes: Description of proficiency levels in numeracy Source: OECD (2013), Table 2.3:

Below Level 1: Tasks at this level require the respondents to carry out simple processes such as counting, sorting, performing basic arithmetic operations with whole numbers or money, or recognising common spatial representations in concrete, familiar contexts where the mathematical content is explicit with little or no text or distractors.

Level 1: Tasks at this level require the respondent to carry out basic mathematical processes in common, concrete contexts where the mathematical content is explicit with little text and minimal distractors. Tasks usually require one-step or simple processes involving counting, sorting, performing basic arithmetic operations, understanding simple percents such as 50%, and locating and identifying elements of simple or common graphical or spatial representations.

Level 2: Tasks at this level require the respondent to identify and act on mathematical information and ideas embedded in a range of common contexts where the mathematical content is fairly explicit or visual with relatively few distractors. Tasks tend to require the application of two or more steps or processes involving calculation with whole numbers and common decimals, percents and fractions; simple measurement and spatial representation; estimation; and interpretation of relatively simple data and statistics in texts, tables and graphs.

Level 3: Tasks at this level require the respondent to understand mathematical information that may be less explicit, embedded in contexts that are not always familiar and represented in more complex ways. Tasks require several steps and may involve the choice of problem-solving strategies and relevant processes. Tasks tend to require the application of number sense and spatial sense; recognising and working with mathematical relationships, patterns, and proportions expressed in verbal or numerical form; and interpretation and basic analysis of data and statistics in texts, tables and graphs.

Level 4: Tasks at this level require the respondent to understand a broad range of mathematical information that may be complex, abstract or embedded in unfamiliar contexts. These tasks involve undertaking multiple steps and choosing relevant problemsolving strategies and processes. Tasks tend to require analysis and more complex reasoning about quantities and data; statistics and chance; spatial relationships; and change, proportions and formulas. Tasks at this level may also require understanding arguments or communicating well-reasoned explanations for answers or choices.

Level 5: Tasks at this level require the respondent to understand complex representations and abstract and formal mathematical and statistical ideas, possibly embedded in complex texts. Respondents may have to integrate multiple types of mathematical information where considerable translation or interpretation is required; draw inferences; develop or work with mathematical arguments or models; and justify, evaluate and critically reflect upon solutions or choices.


2   Estimate of Fachhochschulen student numbers taken from Powell et al (2012). Back

3   The leading seven countries above Germany on this measure were Finland, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Flanders (Belgium), Netherlands and Denmark. Back


 
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Prepared 5 November 2015