Adult lifetime skills: a literature review

A literature review on adult lifetime skills.

Annex B: Case Studies


The government of Singapore offers a variety of programmes targeted at working adults in the early stages of their careers, working adults at their mid-career stage and onwards, as well as at employers. This is mainly done through the SkillsFuture initiative, which aims to provide a variety of opportunities for all individuals to train, learn and develop at different stages of their lives.

SkillsFuture has four key objectives: (1) help individuals to make well-informed choices in education, training and careers through the development of an all-age careers advice and guidance service; (2) develop an integrated, high quality system of education and training that responds to constantly evolving industry needs; (3) promote employer recognition and career development based on skills and mastery through employer involvement in designing and implementing a framework to enable employees to advance their careers through skills ladders; and (4) foster a culture that supports and celebrates lifelong learning, which will include promoting the habit of learning throughout life (SSG | AboutSkillsFuture).

One programme introduced in 2015 and administered as part of SkillsFuture is the SkillsFuture Credit (SFC). The programme provides every Singapore Citizen aged 25 and above, regardless of their employment status, with an opening credit of S$500 (£274) to access lifelong learning opportunities and advance their skills in an autonomous and flexible manner. For further reskilling and upskilling opportunities, the One-Off SkillsFuture Credit Top-Up of S$500 cn be used by all eligible individuals on all SkillsFuture eligible courses. Singapore Citizens aged 40 to 60 (inclusive) can also use the Additional SkillsFuture Credit (Mid-career support) of S$500 (SSG | SkillsFuture Credit).

Webb et al (2018) highlights some lessons learned from Singapore's SkillsFuture Credit scheme. They find that creating a culture of adult learning requires significant investment, the identification of training needs with government support, and subsidy. They also suggest that helping citizens keep up-to-date with changing working practices improves labour market adaptability and resilience. Kelly et al (2020) also praise the SkillsFuture programme, stating that "SkillsFuture has empowered tens of thousands of Singaporean workers to access and take control of their lifelong learning". They suggest that it has also increased supply of new, emerging and priority skills such as data analytics and cyber security. In their report on the future of Scotland's skills system, Kelly et al (2020) argue that a Fund with similar objectives in Scotland would be an important intervention to support and accelerate reskilling and upskilling. An example they give is a worker using the fund to finance a digital upskilling course in their early career, followed by a further or higher education qualification to develop leadership and management skills mid-career, and then access online learning to reskill in late career, perhaps in response to technological change or redundancy.

Very little evidence was found on the effectiveness of the SkillsFuture programme, with the OECD (2020) noting that the reforms should be evaluated within their broader policy context. Soojin et al (2021) use a mixed-methods case study approach that includes survey data and interviews to explore experiences of the SkillsFuture Credit programme specifically. They find that while most respondents are satisfied with the programme, there are low participation rates driven by time and cost barriers. The factors driving active participation in the programme include individuals' self-interest in learning and the degree to which the courses that individuals choose match industry needs.


Denmark provides an example of where there is an extensive system of labour market training courses focused on vocational training. These are aimed at unskilled and skilled employees in industry, commerce and public services. Termed 'AMU courses', such courses receive funding through a combination of state support and contributions from employers. The training courses are provided by labour market training centres or by vocational schools or colleges, with courses covering aspects such as basic skills training of unskilled adult employees aged 25 and over and certificated courses needed for specific jobs (Andriescu et al, 2019).

In their review of adult learning systems, the OECD (2019) note that Denmark has a well-financed adult learning system that is inclusive, flexible and aligned with labour market need. In their data review of adult education and adult skills in Denmark, Rasmussen (2018) find that the strengths of the Danish system are: (1) vocational education through the AMU courses has strong links to social partners; (2) the adult education and learning system is versatile and offers relevant types of education and learning for different purposes and different groups; and, as such, (3) there are high levels of participation in adult education.

Again, no evidence was found on the impact of labour market training courses in Denmark.


Larjanko (2017) provides an overview of the adult learning system in Finland. They note that in Finland, adult learning covers vocational training and general education as well as formal, non-formal and informal learning. An adult learner in Finland is defined as someone who is over 25. One of the stated principles of Finnish education is that everyone must have equal access to high-quality education and training and the same opportunities to education should be available to all citizens irrespective of their ethnic origin, age, wealth or where they live.

An evidence review by the OECD (2020) finds that Finland's skills development system is one of the most successful in the OECD, stating that its adult population has some of the highest levels of literacy and numeracy in the OECD (according to PIAAC, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies). The OECD (2020) note that many continue learning over the life-course, as two in three adults participate in formal or non-formal learning activities every year. According to the OECD's assessment, the strengths of the Finnish system include its versatility and active participation. Education is free or affordable and is available flexibly. Despite this, however, Finland has one of the largest gaps in OECD countries in learning participation between adults with low basic skills and those with higher skills levels. The OECD identifies particular development needs in the provision of short-term education and training, the alignment of education and training with labour market needs, and financial incentives.

The OECD (2020) provide detail of a Finnish basic skills training programme for adults, implemented by the Ministry of Education and Culture between 2003 and 2009. The NOSTE programme aimed to raise the educational attainment of adults without secondary education who were already in the labour market. The programme was developed by the Finnish Parliamentary Adult Education and Training Committee and its goal was to improve the labour market prospects of this group by providing an opportunitiy to: attain a vocational upper secondary qualification or specialist vocational qualifications; undertake IT training; or finish initial education. An important project feature was to link education to the work environment. Participation was free of charge apart from examination fees and the total budget was EUR 124.5 million. The programme was delivered in the form of 59 regional projects provided by a network of various education institutions including vocational adult centres, schools and job centres. Over the implementation period, the programme reached 73% of its initial target and an evaluation of the programme found that it improved self-esteem and work motivation, but failed to improve labour market outcomes (for example, higher wages or new positions). However, the programme increased awareness about the importance of adapting educational programmes to include those with low qualifications and encouraged co-operation between stakeholders (OECD, 2020).

Another programme example worthy of note is the Finnish Workplace Development Programme (FWDP), which was launched in 1996 and ran until 2009. The FWDP is a government-funded programme that aims to improve productivity and the quality of working life in Finnish workplaces. Its focus is on innovation and the use of skills in the workplace. It uses an application based system to fund the use of external experts in workplace development projects (Payne, 2004).

It was funded by central government (the Ministry of Labour) and in 2008 around 2,000 projects were funded for a total of 516 million Euros. There was a focus on SMEs, with around half of employers receiving funding employing 10 or fewer employees (OECD, 2010). Evaluations of the programme are limited, with Payne (2004) arguing that there is very little evidence available to answer the question as to how effective the programme has been in delivering "the better job". In their evidence, Buchanan et al (2010), cite literature which found that the programme had a positive impact across a number of measures including team work, staff competence, access to training and learning and co-operation between employees and employers.


In their evidence review of 28 country reports, Andriescu et al (2019) find that Estonia provides a good example of collabarative working to deliver lifelong learning. The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy encourages co-ordination between different levels and forms of learning including Government departments and agencies responsible for education, labour markets, employment and enterprise. Together these agencies co-ordinate, plan, monitor and implement various programmes linked directly and indirectly to adult learning, with the Lifelong Learning Strategy "helping to focus their attention in a single document". Using the Strategy as their starting point, Estonia created various working groups, committees and partnership meeting as vehicles through which collaborative and joint working took place. The Lifelong Learning Strategy targets groups most in need including the low skilled and those out of work.

The OECD (2020) also highlight the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy as an example of a comprehensive strategy that is used to set priorities and guide funding decisions. It sets out strategic priorities for adult learning, such as increasing adult learning participation and raising adult qualification levels.

To implement the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy, the Ministry of Education and Research has adopted nine programmes, including the Adult Education Programme 2017 to 2029. The programme sets the national framework for adult learning policy in Estonia. The main goal of which is to motivate adults to learn and to create flexible and high quality learning opportunities that are based on the needs and developments of the labour market (Haaristo, 2018). The adult learning programme aims to: (1) help adults return to formal education; (2) strengthen on-the-job training and retraining; and (3) improve the labour market relevance of training (OECD, 2020). As Haaristo (2018) notes, the purpose of the adult learning programme is to increase access to and the quality of non-formal training and retraining (including activities such as increasing the quality, flexibility and reliability of further training; providing opportunities for further training and retraining; and developing the competencies of adult trainers); and develop the qualifications system and create and support forms of co-operation to implement the lifelong learning approach. The latter includes activities such as developing an occupational standards system, supporting co-operation between different stakeholders and developing new funding principles for further training. However, evidence on the outcomes or impact of the Estonian Adult Learning Programme was not found during the literature search.

New Zealand

New Zealand provides two interesting examples in terms of their Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund and their adoption of micro-credentials.

The New Zealand Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund supports the provision of literacy and numeracy programmes for employees to increase their literacy and numeracy skills, and contribute to workplace productivity. The aim of the Fund is to: (1) increase the literacy and numeracy skills of employees; and (2) contribute to workplace productivity through the provision and evaluation of literacy and numeracy learning in a workplace context. This is achieved by: (1) providing literacy and numeracy programmes of study or training to employees; and (2) supporting workplaces to establish sustainable workplace literacy and numeracy provision (TEO-led Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund | Tertiary Education Commission (

Guy and Harvey (2013) and Gray and Sutton (2007) discuss the New Zealand Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund. It is demand-led with employers applying to the New Zealand Government's Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) who administer the Fund. To be eligible for funding, the employer must be a corporate body and provide a literacy and or numeracy programme to a minimum of 20 employees or be part of a consortium agreement with other employers that delivers literacy, numeracy, or literacy and numeracy, provision to a minimum of 20 employees.

The Fund supports literacy and numeracy programmes that are relevant to the employers' workplace, delivering 40 hours of learning over a 10 to 40 week period, and providing a maximum of NZ$3,700 per employee. Eligible employees are those who: (1) cannot perform the reading, writing, numeracy or digital technology demands of the job or who have insufficient English language skills to communicate at work; (2) are New Zealand citizens or residents; (3) are employed in the paid workforce; and (4) are not full-time students or simultaneously accessing other TEC-funded programmes. Employers are expected to make a financial contribution, with the average contribution of employers approximately 30% of the total programme cost.

Gray and Sutton (2007) conducted interviews with a sample of employers and providers that applied to the Fund in 2006. Employers and providers identified the following factors for a programme to be successful: making the programme a priority; quality teaching by a tutor who "fits" the company; programmes that meet employer needs; and good employer-provider relationships. However, as noted by Guy and Harvey (2013), there is a lack of evidence on the outcomes of Fund delivery.

New Zealand also provides a more recent example on the use of micro-credentials, with the OECD (2021) stating that "New Zealand has been one of the front-runners in national policy making around micro-credentials". As the OECD (2021) note in their evidence review, the New Zealand Government views micro-credentials as a complement to traditional higher education, with micro-credential programmes viewed as a stand-alone education offering with compulsory employer involvement. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) created a quality assurance system for micro-credentials in 2018, defining them in specific regulations and quality standards. The New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission started providing funding to higher education providers for the development and delivery of micro-credential programmes in 2019. Providers of micro-credentials must demonstrate that their programmes do no duplicate existing higher education programmes and address unmet skills needs. The providers are also required to prove their capacity to deliver quality education. In their 2021 report, the OECD state that there are currently about 150 NZQA-approved micro-credential programmes offered by higher education institutions and other training providers. However, OECD (2021) does not report on any evaluations of the programmes and as such programme outcomes are not apparent.

In general, the country search did not find any evaluations that provide robust evidence of impact or what works combined with a clear analysis of why.



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