Having skills and using them are very different

The OECD have recently released a new survey of skills and it has prompted plenty of wailing about the failings of the English education system. The crucial slide from Andreas Schleicher’s summary is this one: It shows that English adults have excellent literacy skills relative to their peers internationally but young people have fallen well behind. Given the efforts that have been put into the UK’s schooling system over the last few decades it charts a depressing decline. Hearteningly, it is not the full story of the survey.

Comparisons like the one above rely on averages only but who’s average? Comparing the distribution of skills across countries shows that things aren’t as dire as all that.
You might well respond that Japan is still far more skilled than any other nation surveyed, which is true. Sadly for the Japanese, having skills and using them are very different things and there is no prize for possessing the most unused skills. If there was, they would definitely win it.
As skilled as the Japanese are, they make very little use of their talents in the workplace. By contrast, the English and Americans make excellent use of the skills they have, which goes some way to explaining why their wages are so high despite their relatively poor literacy and numeracy. That’s no reason for the UK to be complacent but we shouldn’t forget that there is also good news in the OECD report.