Lack of worker skills threatens European recovery

PARIS – Andrea Ortiz, a 24-year-old Spaniard, has degrees in law and business yet works in a multinational clothing company as a store clerk. She has little hope of advancement and fears that when finally she does get a job she wants, she’ll have no idea how to do it well.

“You arrive in class, they give you a book and they ask you to learn it, that’s it. The teachers are very educated and well trained but I think that on many occasions they do not know how to transmit that knowledge,” said Ortiz, who sells clothes at Zara in Madrid. “The day will come when I have to join a company and I won’t know the basics of how an office works.”

Her fears may be well-founded, according to a study released Tuesday that shows many countries in dire economic trouble have workforces that lack the skills needed to prompt an economic recovery.

In the first global study of adult skills, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development interviewed 166,000 people from 24 countries and regions – a rich sample of people from all walks of life who agreed to sit down for tests that could last up to 90 minutes. The results from mostly industrialized countries offered a snapshot into how people of different ages are educated, work and adapt to a changing world.

It did not include China, India or Brazil, which are among the world’s fastest developing countries.

“We’re looking at decades of policy. We’re looking across generations,” said Stefano Scarpetta, the OECD’s director for employment labor and social affairs.