The share of low-skilled people who expressed an interest in training mostly report that the reasons for not starting are lack of support, being busy with work and family issues and the costliness of the training. Those who did participate state doing their job better as the most relevant reason. On the other hand, being obliged to attend training is a crucial factor for participation as well. This reveals paradox effects of jobs as the core reason for training and – at the same time – being busy at work as the core hindering factor.
Training wanted, but not started
Among the low-skilled population we find between 4 and nearly 30 % who wanted training, but did not start. The international average is 17.1 %, for the numeracy low-skilled population it is 17.7 %. The highest shares with more than one quarter of the numeracy low-skilled population agreeing to the statement (training wanted) are in the USA (28.1), Sweden (25.8), Denmark (25) and Ireland (24.5). This changes slightly if literacy is used for the definition of the subpopulation, with Sweden, USA, Ireland and Spain ranking highest. Within the high skilled population the average is 35.9 % (literacy) and 34.2 % (numeracy). In nearly all countries, the proportion of those who reported wanting training but not starting ranges from a quarter to nearly half of the high skilled population. The USA has the highest values, with more than 50.5 % in both domains (literacy and numeracy).
The large differences between the low-skilled populations’ relatively low values and the high skilled populations’ values between 20 and 50 % show that this is more than a social desirability effect. Activating these sections of the subpopulation would double the figures of adult education participation among the low-skilled population for many countries.
Reasons for non-participation within the low-skilled population
Work, family and numerous non-specified reasons (other) are reported to be the most hindering factors, followed by financial issues, structural barriers, not meeting the criteria and unforseen circumstances. This is followed by one in five persons facing or anticipating financial problems in connection with adult education and training. Even if sometimes the course is free of charge, people assume it must cost something, because they are already used to having to pay everywhere (cf. Heinemann 2014).
Time constraints are mentioned as a strong barrier. But as we know from qualitative research, this might be an escape category: people tend to report time issues; but the non-reported, hidden reason is that they see no thematic relation between the training and their everyday challenges (Grotlüschen 2003).
Regarding the unspecified reasons (other), this indicates either people cannot tell what kept them from starting or they have reasons which are not covered by the answer options. Early research found that time, money and lack of connections was the famous formula for non-participation in the 1960s (Strzelewicz et al. 1966). From the new century on, fear of being too old or too unprepared are reported according to the theory and research on “social fields” (Barz and Tippelt 2004) or with regard to non-participants and never-participants (Schröder et al. 2004). Four types of abstinence have been classified (Bolder and Hendrich 2000) and the development of thematic interest has been distinguished into phases (Grotlüschen 2010). Postcolonial and intersectional approaches have also been used to pinpoint migrant women’s reasons for learning, suggesting the importance of “citizenship capital” (Heinemann 2014).
Reasons for participation within the low-skilled population
The international averagesFootnote 5 show that “doing the job better” and “improving career prospects” is ticked by more than 45 % of those low-skilled who participate in adult education. Another 20.9 % state they were obliged to participate. The threat of losing the job is not an issue. This might mean that the jobs are secure or that adult education would not change the job situation anyway. Amongst unqualified or low qualified adults the latter idea is common (Grotlüschen and Brauchle 2004; Schiersmann 2006).
Job requirements: not challenged enough or needing more training
The variables used here are controversially discussed as the measurement of skills mismatch (Perry et al. 2014). But the question in this section is not the mismatch between skills and jobs, the question is whether and how low performers engage in further education.
Level I and below performers might find themselves in monotonous workplaces where they are not challenged enough and therefore have neither the opportunity nor the need for informal learning activities at work. Those who do not feel challenged enough are some 77 % of the literacy Level I and below population (international average), ranging from nearly 88 % in Germany to 63 % in Finland, Japan being an outlier with 28 %. Being insufficiently challenged and having very low literacy skills allows the conclusion that the workplaces under consideration require rather few skills. Similarily, the underchallenged 86 % of the Level IV/V performers will be interpreted as low requirements for highly performing employees.
In case the Level I and below performers enter more qualified jobs and find themselves equipped with fewer skills than required, this should lead to the necessity of training. One would expect that the lower the skills, the higher the need for training would be. Some 28 % on Level I and below say they need more training, while this figure increases slowly but steadily up to 36 % of the Level IV/V performers.
On Level I and below, 77 % feel underchallenged while 28 % need training. The latter will either try to get non-formal training or start to improve their skills informally. The following section shows that a quarter up to a third of them reports learning at work every day.
Learning strategies and adult education
Six items form an indicator called “Learning Strategies”. The index is abbreviated as “Readiness to Learn” in the questionnaire. The theoretical discussion is published in the Conceptual Framework underlying the Background Questionnaire (OECD 2011, p. 18), but some of the indicators are not available in the final questionnaire anymore, so the direct link between theoretical idea in 2011 and the published index in 2013 remains unclear. Results should be interpreted carefully.
The overall result shows an international pattern where Asian countries versus post-Soviet and Western countries seem to differ. This may be a cultural pattern underlying the self-reported answers.
Bivariate correlations between learning strategies and participation rates are low (in this case computed via the IDB Analyzer Software and with SPSS). The international averages turn out to be:
0.11 for formal adult education (s.e. < 0.00, range from 0.04 in the Czech Republic to 0.19 in Estonia).
0.14 for non-formal education (s.e. < 0.00, range from 0.08 in Norway to 0.21 in Estonia).
0.21 for informal learning at work (s.e. < 0.00, range from 0.13 in Korea to 0.30 in Austria).
Learning strategies of the Level I and below subpopulation have rather small correlations with their participation in adult education and learning. This is striking and may need further investigation.
The theoretical approach sketched out in the conceptual framework of the background questionnaire would suggest that learning strategies, which form an index based on the theory of metacognition, should be quite influential for learning (OECD 2011). On the other hand, this might differ between learning outcomes and participation rates.