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OECD releases paper on Computers and the Future of Skill Demand

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in October 2017 released a white-paper entitled Computers and the Future of Skill Demand. The study provides insights into current computer capabilities with respect to certain human skills, and what this portends for the future workplace.

The report is the culmination of an exploratory project that focused on understanding current computer capabilities with respect to the three general cognitive skills needed for computer competency. Researchers relied on OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills, which is derived from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The PIAAC data helped identify the changes in skill demand since the 1990s, and allowed the OECD to reassess computer capabilities that could change skill demand in the future workplace.

The three cognitive skills measured by the PIACC are literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving with computers. These are, according to the report, “developed during compulsory education and broadly used by adults at work and in their personal lives.”

Compared to the 1990s, workers at all levels of proficiency are more likely to use their literacy skills at work, but there is a smaller proportion of the workers with a high literacy proficiency, meaning that more workers with low and moderate levels of proficiency are using computer literacy in the workplace. Economic analyses that rely on wage reporting to measure skills incorrectly correlate high wages with high literacy skills.

The key preliminary conclusions, according to the study, relate mostly to the implications of future skill demand for education and posits that over the coming decades, “it is likely that there will be strong economic pressure to apply the computer capabilities for the PIAAC skills across the economy.” This is likely, they say, to reverse the pattern of growing numbers of workers using low and mid-level literacy skills, and that the overall demand for these workers will decrease.

“Ultimately, it is likely that the employment prospects for most adults one or two decades from now will increasingly depend on other types of skills that are not measured by PIAAC [and] we need to assess computer capabilities across all skills used at work, not just those assessed in this study.”

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