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Recent discussions of lifelong learning point to problem solving as one of the major competencies to be fostered in a lifelong learning process. Yet,
compared to other domains of learning, problem-solving has received less attention in the literature, in part because of a lack of information on this topic. A new report, based on the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL), provides information that helps to address that gap.
The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey assessed four foundation skills thought to be essential for social, professional and economic success – prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving. Eleven countries, including Canada, participated in the most recent Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, which was conducted in two main waves between 2002 and 2008. This article summarizes the key findings reported in that report, focusing on problem-solving skills, their definition, distribution in the labour force and related labour market outcomes. The development of the analytical and measurement frameworks for the skills domains assessed in ALL took account of observations of skills made in the workplace. Figure 1 illustrates one of many models that were developed to understand which skills matter economically. The triangle identifies three hierarchical levels of skill, starting at the bottom with basic skills that are thought to be required by all occupations and hence are considered to be portable between jobs and employers. According to this model, both literacy and numeracy fall into this category. The second layer of the triangle identifies a set of skills that are used in the workplace which are still portable, but which vary across broad industry and occupational groups. Problem-solving skills are positioned in this level. The third level concerns skills that are specific to a particular job or even firm and that are considered to be non-portable in the labour market.