Target 4.4 | Skills for work

A student works on a microscope in Indonesia.

CREDIT: United States government work

Target 4.4 | Skills for work

Target 4.4 raises three important questions: What skills ‘for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ are particularly relevant for global monitoring across diverse contexts? Are skills mainly acquired in education and training, or elsewhere? Are available measures valid and feasible at low cost?

Uncertainty around these questions is reflected in the indicators proposed. One is the education attainment rate in the adult population, which is not a measure of skill. The other, information and communication technology (ICT) and digital literacy skills, risks narrowing the agenda but is also an attempt to focus on concrete, measurable skills.

In the European Union, 44% of adults used basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet in 2014 Click to Tweet


Basic cognitive skills include literacy and numeracy. New analysis for the GEM Report shows that high literacy skills almost double the probability of holding a decent job.

ICT has become essential to daily life and work. In the European Union, 44% of adults could use basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet in 2014, ranging from 16% in Romania to 63% in Finland.

Digital literacy skills are a better marker, as they can be directly assessed. In the Czech Republic, 85% of grade 8 students demonstrated a functional working knowledge of computers in 2013, compared with 13% in Thailand and 9% in Turkey. A global tool will need to address rapid technological change over time and, especially, the cultural biases inherent in the questions currently used.


There has been growing interest in skills that are believed to involve less cognitive processing, though in practice many of the most valued workplace skills – such as the fundamental but elusive skills of creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration – escape easy categorization.

There is a lack of evidence showing the level at which non-cognitive skills, such as perseverance, self-control, or social and emotional skills, best predict a positive employment outcome. The optimal level likely depends on the employment context.

Developing measures to allow cross-country comparisons of non-cognitive skills is challenging. The GEM Report recommends avoiding large-scale measurement for global monitoring purposes and calls for attention to the research on measuring their acquisition and impact in the workplace.


Two examples of blended cognitive and non-cognitive skills relevant for the world of work are financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills. Attempts to develop an empirical measure of financial literacy have advanced in recent years. By one definition, 33% of adults worldwide are financially literate, ranging from 13% in Yemen to 71% in Norway. Assessments of entrepreneurship skills, still largely at the research stage, raise the question of what topics to integrate in school curricula.