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    Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies Series

    Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

    Chapter 2
    Socio-demographic characteristics

    Highlights

    • Literacy and numeracy scores are highest at ages 25 to 34. Individuals aged 16 to 34 are the most proficient in PS-TRE. Despite higher levels of proficiency in PS-TRE among youth (16 to 24), 9% display proficiency only at the lowest level in PS-TRE.
    • Women and men display similar proficiencies in literacy and in PS-TRE; men have higher numeracy skills than women.
    • Higher education is associated with greater literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE skills.
    • The employed population displays greater information-processing skills than the unemployed and not in the labour force populations. Workers in managerial and professional occupations display greater information-processing skills than workers in other types of occupations.
    • Literacy and numeracy skills of unemployed and not in the labour force populations are similar. However, not being in the labour force is associated with lower PS-TRE skills compared to the unemployed.
    • The difference in information-processing skills between younger and older age groups is narrower for those with higher education or working in managerial and professional occupations. This is especially true among individuals with a bachelor’s  degree or higher.

    To gain a better understanding of information-processing aptitudes in Canada, this chapter presents the level and distribution of skills across selected socio-demographic characteristics. Drawing on previous works on the relationships between skills and various attributes, the following factors were chosen for closer analysis:

    • Age — comparing skill differences between age cohorts allows for an analysis of the multifaceted relationship between age and abilities (Statistics Canada 2005).
    • Gender — previous skill surveys have found that gender is a determinant of skills proficiency, specifically that men’s higher proficiency in numeracy is greater in older age cohorts (Statistics Canada 2005; OECD and Statistics Canada 2011).
    • Education — there is a well-founded and strong link between education and proficiency in skills (Desjardins 2004; Statistics Canada 2005; OECD and Statistics Canada 2005).
    • Labour market — higher information-processing skills (specifically literacy and numeracy) have been shown to have a positive impact on labour market outcomes such as employment (Statistics Canada 2005) and earnings (Green and Riddell 2007).

    Information presented in this chapter focuses only on results for Canada. It presents the relationships at the national level between the above-mentioned socio-demographic attributes and skill levels in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE.

    Age

    The following section highlights key PIAAC findings in Canada on the relationship between age and skills by analyzing results in literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE by age group.

    The distribution of Canada’s population of 16-to-65 year olds is as follows: 17% for the 16-to-24 age group; 20% for the 25-to-34 age group; 20% for the 35-to-44 age group; 23% for the 45-to-54 age group; and 21% for the 55-to-65 age group.

    Literacy and numeracy skills are highest at ages 25 to 34

    As is the case with most participating countries, literacy and numeracy scores in Canada are highest among the 25-to-34 age group: the average score for literacy is 285, and for numeracy it is 277 (Charts 2.1 a and b). The average score for ages 16 to 24 (when many young people are in school) is 276 for literacy and 268 for numeracy, while the figures for those aged 55 to 65 are lower: 260 for literacy and 251 for numeracy.

     

    PS-TRE is higher among younger age groups. Despite a higher level of proficiency, 9% of youth score at the lowest level

    Youth and adults aged 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 are the most proficient in PS-TRE skills, with similar proportions of each age group scoring at Level 2 or 3:  52% of the 16-to-24 age group and 50% of the 25-to-34 age group.  In contrast, those aged 45 to 54 (29%) and 55 to 65 (17%) have lower proficiency in PS-TRE. Despite a higher level of proficiency among youth (16 to 24), 9% score below Level 1 (Chart 2.2).

    Non-completion of the PS-TRE assessment is also related to age: one-fifth (22%) of the 45-to-54 age group and one-third (33%) of the 55-to-65 age group were not assessed, compared to 7% of the 16-to-24 age group, and 8% of the 25-to-34 age group.

    Gender

    The only skills difference observed between men and women is in the domain of numeracy

    Overall, no gender differences were observed at the national level in literacy and PS-TRE skills. This remains true at all age levels, except for the 55-to-65 age group.  Among 55-to-65 year olds, men score six points higher than women in literacy (Chart 2.3a) and a larger proportion of men in this age group scored at Level 2 or 3 in PS-TRE (19%) than women (14%).

    The picture for numeracy, however, is quite different. Across the full age spectrum, men have measurably higher average numeracy skills than women, and this difference becomes more pronounced in older age groups (Chart 2.3b). For example, in the 16-to-24 cohort, average numeracy scores are 273 for men and 264 for women, a nine-point difference.  In the 55-to-65 age group, however, the difference is more than twice as large, with an average score of 261 for men and 242 for women.

     

    Education

    In this section, skills are presented by the highest level of education completed, which are grouped into four categories: less than high school diploma; high school diploma; postsecondary education below a bachelor's degree (PSE – below bachelor's degree); and postsecondary education with a bachelor’s degree or higher (PSE – bachelor's degree or higher).

    The distribution of Canada’s population of 16-to-65 year olds among these educational attainment categories is as follows: 15% have less than a high school diploma; 25% have a high school diploma; 35% have a PSE – below bachelor's degree; and 26% have a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher. Note that many (51%) of the young adults (16 to 24 age group) were students when they were interviewed for PIAACNote 1.

    Educational attainment has a strong positive relationship to skills proficiency

    In looking at the population of 16-to-65 year olds, higher levels of education are associated with higher  proficiency in literacy (Chart 2.4a), numeracy (Chart 2.4b), and PS-TRE (Chart 2.5), where scores increase with each level of education. For literacy, for example, the average scores for the Canadian population when listed by level of education appear as follows:

    • PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher: 300;
    • PSE – below bachelor's degree: 276;
    • high school diploma: 267;
    • less than a high school diploma: 234.

    The trends in numeracy follow a similar pattern, with the highest average (at 295) for those with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher, and the lowest (at 222) for those who have not graduated from high school.

     


    When considering the distribution of groups by proficiency level, those with higher levels of education include greater proportions scoring at the highest proficiency levels. For example, among the population with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher, 29% are at Level 4 or 5 in literacy;  27% are at Level 4 or 5 in numeracy; and 13% are at Level 3 in PS-TRE. As the accompanying charts show, these proportions decrease with decreasing levels of education, with about 2-3% of those with less than a high school diploma scoring at the highest level in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE

    Conversely, when looking at proficiency at Level 1 or below, the opposite trend is observed: 41% of those with less than a high school diploma are at Level 1 or below in literacy; 51% are at this level in numeracy; and 22% are categorized as below Level 1 for PS-TRE.  While these proportions decrease with higher levels of education, about 6-10% of people with PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher are scoring at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy, numeracy (Level 1 or below), and PS-TRE (below Level 1). 

    It is also worth noting that even if proficiency levels increase with each level of education, occasionally people with a high school diploma and those with PSE – below a bachelor's degree demonstrate a similar performance. For example, 9% and 12% respectively score at Level 4 or 5 in literacy. Also, in both groups 6% score at Level 3 in PS-TRE.

    When looking at the proportions of people who did not complete the CBA, 34% of people with less than a high school diploma were PS-TRE non-respondents, compared to 9% of people with PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher.

    While overall higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of skills, the results above indicate that a certain proportion of those with higher levels of education score at the lowest skill levels, and some with lower levels of education are performing at the highest skill levels. This finding will be further explored in future analysis.

    Skills highest among those with PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher

     

     

    The relationship between education levels and skills noted above for the entire age spectrum also holds true for each age group: proficiency in literacy (Chart 2.6a), numeracy (Chart 2.6b), and PS-TRE (Chart 2.7) increases with higher levels of educational attainment, irrespective of age cohort.

    Within an age cohort, proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE is consistently highest for those with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher, and lowest for those with less than a high school diploma. Meanwhile, the average literacy and numeracy scores of those with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher are also greater than those with a PSE – below bachelor's degree.

    The magnitude of this difference is most clearly illustrated by the literacy and numeracy scores among those aged 25 to 65: the scores of those with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher at the 25th percentile are greater than the average scores of those with less than a high school diploma.

    The average score-point difference between those with the lowest level of education and those with the highest level of education is smallest among the 16-to-24 age group (45 points for literacy and 51 points for numeracy), and greatest among those aged 45 to 54 (84 points for literacy and 93 points for numeracy).

    The difference in literacy and numeracy skills by age is less pronounced for those with a postsecondary education

    Those with a postsecondary education have the narrowest range of scores (i.e., the difference between the 5th and 95th percentiles is smallest); those with less than a high school diploma have the widest range. This pattern is evident in each age group, but the greatest difference in ranges between those with and without postsecondary education is in the 35-to-44 age group.

    When looking at skill differences among age groups, education appears to moderate the relationship between proficiency scores and age. For those with less than a high school diploma, there is a 40-point difference in the average literacy and numeracy scores between those aged 16 to 24 and those aged 55 to 65. For these same age groups, the difference narrows to 12 points for individuals with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher. 

    Labour market

    Labour force status

    This section examines the relationship between skills proficiency and labour force status across the entire age range, which is divided into three categories: employed, unemployed, and not in the labour force. The distribution of Canada’s population of 16-to-65 year olds among these categories is as follows: 76% are employed, 4% are unemployed, and 20% are not in the labour forceNote 2.

    Literacy and numeracy skills are higher for the employed population

    Those who are employed have significantly higher scores in literacy and numeracy than those who are not employed, with average scores of 278 for literacy and 272 for numeracy (Chart 2.8a and Chart 2.8b). Moreover, about 15% of the employed are at Level 4 or 5 for both literacy and numeracy, compared with 9% for literacy and 7% for numeracy among those who were not in the labour force.

    Conversely, 20% of the unemployed and 26% of those not in the labour force are at Level 1 or below for literacy, compared with 14% of the employed. The differences are somewhat greater for numeracy: 32% of the unemployed and 35% of those not in the labour force are at Level 1 or below, compared with 19% of the employed.

     

    Not being in the labour force, rather than being unemployed, is associated with lower PS-TRE skills

    The picture for PS-TRE differs slightly from that for literacy and numeracy, with Chart 2.9 showing only small differences between the employed and unemployed. At Level 2 or 3, while there is no statistically significant difference between the employed (40%) and the unemployed (37%), the proportion of those not in the labour force at these two levels (26%) is substantially lower than the first two groups.  Meanwhile, the proportion at Level 1 or below is similar across all three groups (46% for the employed, 46% for the unemployed, and 45% for those not in the labour force).

    Those not in the labour force were the least likely to have completed the computer-based assessment (29%). This compares to 14% for the employed and 17% for the unemployed.

    Occupation

    This section examines the relationship between information-processing skills and occupation across the entire age range (16 to 65).

    Occupation here is defined by the international indicator used in PIAAC to distinguish four major occupational categories. These categories group occupations based on the nature of the job and the required skill level, where a job is defined as the set of tasks and duties to be performed, and skills are defined as the abilities to carry them out. These categories, together with the proportion of Canadians who have been employed in the past five yearsNote 3 that fall into each one, are as follows: 50% - Managerial and professional occupations, 26% - Service and support occupations; 16% - Trade, production and manufacturing occupations, and 8% - Manual and other service occupations.

    Managerial and professional occupations are associated with greater literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE skills

    At the national level, workers in managerial and professional occupations score higher on literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE than any of the other groups (see Table 2.1).

    The average literacy score for managerial and professional occupations of 292 is 26 points higher than that for service and support occupations, and more than 40 points higher than that for manual and other service occupations. Moreover, average literacy is 9 points higher in service and support occupations than in trade, production, and manufacturing occupations. Average literacy scores are about the same for workers in manual and other service occupations and trade, production, and manufacturing occupations.

    For numeracy, managerial and professional occupations average highest, at 286, and manual and other service occupations lowest, at 241. However, service and support occupations, together with trade, production, and manufacturing occupations, average the same level, at 254. Unlike literacy scores, numeracy scores for trade, production and manufacturing occupations average 13 points higher than scores for manual and other service occupations.

    Measuring PS-TRE, 50% of workers in managerial and professional occupations are at Level 2 or 3. This is substantially greater than service and support occupations, at 34%. In this skill domain (as with literacy), trade, production, and manufacturing occupations scored nearly the same as manual and other service occupations. However, the proportion of service and support occupations at Level 2 or 3 is considerably greater than that for trade, production, and manufacturing occupations.

    The difference in literacy and numeracy skills by age is less pronounced for workers in managerial and professional occupations

    This section examines the relationship between proficiency and occupational skill across the entire age rangeNote 4 (Chart 2.10a and Chart 2.10b). 

     

    Across all ages, average literacy and numeracy scores are consistently highest for the managerial and professional occupations, and lowest for the manual and other service occupations. The average literacy and numeracy scores of workers in the most skilled group are greater in each age group than for any other occupational group.

    In addition, literacy and numeracy scores of workers in the managerial and professional occupations at the 25th percentile are greater than the average scores for workers in the manual and other service occupations for every age group, except those under age 24.

    The gap in skills proficiency between older and younger workers in literacy and numeracy is less in more skilled occupations. This is most evident when comparing the youngest group (16 to 24) with the oldest (55 to 65). For literacy, the difference between the two age cohorts is greatest for the manual and other service occupations, at 40 points; whereas for the managerial and professional occupations the difference narrows to 11 points. The other occupational categories fall in between: the difference in the trade, production, and manufacturing occupations is 21 points, and in the service and support occupations it is 29. This trend is similar for numeracy.

    Turning now to the range of skill levels (i.e., how far apart the 5th and 95th percentiles are from each other) within occupations, the widest range is found among the manual and other service occupations, and the narrowest difference is found in the managerial and professional occupations.  This is mostly evident regardless of age group. However, by age 55 to 65, there is very little difference in skill distribution between the occupational groupings on literacy; the range from 5th to 95th percentile is about 150 for the four occupational groups. The 55-to-65 age range still shows a difference across occupational skill categories for numeracy, but it is substantially less than in younger ages.

    Education and Occupation

    As we have seen in this chapter, PIAAC results highlight the relationship between skills and educational attainment on the one hand, and occupations and skill levels on the other. Specifically, skills proficiency increases with higher levels of educational attainment and is associated with more-skilled occupations. This section provides some initial analysis of the association between occupation, educational attainment, and information-processing skillsNote 5 (Table 2.2).

    In general, at each level of educational attainment, workers in managerial and professional occupations demonstrate higher proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE than their counterparts working in other types of occupations

    As noted in the previous section, 50% of workers surveyed in Canada were in managerial and professional occupations, which is significantly higher than the OECD average of 39%. As shown in Table 2.2, workers with the highest scores in all three domains are those with a PSE – bachelor’s degree or higher who work in managerial and professional occupations. These represent four in five university graduates, and 22% of Canadian workers. Those with the lowest scores in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE are workers with less than a high school diploma who work in manual and other service occupations. This group represents just 2% of Canadian workers.

    Meanwhile, workers in service and support occupations score higher than those in trade, production, and manufacturing occupations in literacy and PS-TRE — across all levels of education. When it comes to numeracy, however, this is not always the case: workers in trade, production, and manufacturing occupations with postsecondary education attain higher average scores than their counterparts in the service and support occupations. Also, workers in manual and other service occupations with a high school diploma or less attain higher scores than workers in trade, production, and manufacturing occupations for PS-TRE.

    This chapter examined the level and distribution of information-processing skills in Canada across selected socio-demographic characteristics. Literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE were assessed with respect to age, gender, education, employment, and occupational skill to gain a better understanding of skill-related differences between groups.  Education and employment are two factors that are critical in the development and maintenance of skills. Education can aid in acquiring skills, while employment (both the tenure and the type of work) can affect the maintenance, and possibly the further development, of these skills over time. Overall, the findings are consistent with those for other participating countries (OECD 2013b).


    Notes

    1. This proportion drops substantially in the older ages of the cohort: from 50% at age 21, to 32% at ages 22 and 23, and to 15% by age 24.
    2. These percentages of employed, unemployed and adults not in the labour force obtained from PIAAC are very similar to what was found in the Labour Force Survey in 2012.
    3. Occupations were derived only for people who had been employed within the previous five years: this excluded 9% of the overall sample aged 16 to 65.
    4. Note that only 14% of those aged 16 to 24 were employed in the last five years.
    5. Occupations were derived only for people who had been employed within the previous five years: this excluded 9% of the overall sample aged 16 to 65.
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