UK nations have biggest skills gaps, says OECD
UK nations have the biggest skills gaps between young people who are not in education, employment or training and those in work, suggests a study.
They had the widest literacy gap out of 22 countries included in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analysis.
They also had the biggest gap in problem-solving skills, says the study.
The Department for Education said its "relentless focus on standards" was boosting skills in England.
OECD researchers looked at 2012 and 2013 data for 22 developed countries, including England and Northern Ireland - which for the purposes of the report were labelled "the UK".
The UK-based group had the largest differences between the literacy and problem-solving skills of those who were not in education, employment or training (Neet) aged 16 to 29 and their employed peers, the researchers found.
Overall, there was a 12.6% gap in literacy, double the OECD average of 6.5%.
In Japan, the difference was 0.3%, in Korea 0.4% and in Norway, which had the biggest gap after the UK, it was 11.2%, followed by the Slovak Republic where it was 10.5%.
There was also a 9.6% difference between the problem-solving skills of UK Neets and young people in work.
The country with the next biggest gap was the Netherlands, where the difference was 8.6%, followed by Norway with a gap of 7.4%.
In Korea, the difference in problem-solving skills was just 1.2%.
Ensuring all young people leave education with sufficient skills is a priority, say the researchers in a country note on the UK figures.
"Policies should focus on helping the Neets, including those who have become disengaged, to renew with education or integrate into the labour market."
The note emphasises the need to continue reforms and improve links between young people and employment and education institutions "including through second-chance options".
The researchers also note that, unlike many other OECD countries, the UK's Neet rate did not increase during the global economic and financial crisis.
However, young people with poor skills face more problems in their careers than other young people, they add.
Some have completely given up looking for work, the statistics show, with more than half (56%) of those classified as Neet in 2013 deemed "inactive" and not seeking work, compared with an OECD average of 54%.
"Many of the Neets are far from the labour market not only due to their low skills but also because they are not looking for a job and thus may have fallen under the radar of education and labour market institutions," the report warns.
'Off the radar'
Statistics published last week showed one in eight young people in England is deemed to be a so-called Neet - down to a 10-year low.
In January, the Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that tens of thousands of teenagers fell off the radar when they left school and missed out on support and advice.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Following years of stagnation in international education league tables, this government's relentless focus on standards is ensuring that thousands more young people are able to read, write and add up properly...
"But there is no room for complacency. We will continue to build on this success by ensuring all young people leave school with the knowledge and skills they need to compete with their peers from across the globe."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the report was "an important reminder that skills and training for young people will be vital to productivity growth".
"But with the government making major cuts to further education, we are moving in the wrong direction.
"If the government is serious about higher productivity, it will need to reconsider these cuts."