Programme for the International
Assessment of Adult Competencies

PIAAC: An Overview

PIAAC – The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies – is an international comparative study initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with the goal to assess key adult competencies. PIAAC is implemented simultaneously in several countries and is repeated at regular intervals. The study assesses key adult competencies necessary to successfully navigate demands in everyday life and in the workplace. These competencies include literacy, numeracy, and adaptive problem solving. They are believed to be central to information processing in modern society and they constitute the foundation for the development of many other, more specific competencies.

The goal of PIAAC is to provide a comprehensive overview of the human capital of the participating countries, both at national and international levels. PIAAC allows to compare key competencies across participating countries and to identify factors that play a crucial role in their acquisition, retention, and maintenance. In addition, PIAAC sheds light on how these competencies are used in everyday life and in the workplace and how they have developed in the past ten years. Finally, international comparison and exchange allow the participating countries to learn from each other and to develop measures to promote the acquisition of key competencies in their adult populations.

The background information collected in PIAAC, such as comprehensive information on formal education, continuing education, and employment, allows for the investigation of factors that influence the development and retention of competencies. In addition to the assessment of competencies, PIAAC also captures whether adults use certain competencies in their everyday life and in the workplace and whether these competencies differ from their subjective assessment of workplace requirements. Furthermore, PIAAC provides important information on whether the school and education systems of the participating countries are able to promote the acquisition and retention of the competencies necessary for successful participation in life in modern society.

PIAAC is designed to be repeated at ten-year intervals. Around 40 countries participated in the first cycle of PIAAC. Most of the participating countries carried out their data collection in 2011/12. PIAAC Cycle 1 also prompted various follow-up studies.

Preparations for PIAAC Cycle 2, in which 33 countries are participating, began in 2018. The main study is planned for 2021/22 and aims at collecting interviews with 5.000 randomly selected adults between the ages of 16 and 65 in each country. The main study will be preceded by a field trial in 2020 in which the instruments and procedures will be tested.  

In Germany, PIAAC is primarily funded by the Ministry of Education and Research with support from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences is responsible for the national project management of PIAAC in Germany (2018-2023). Prof. Dr. Beatrice Rammstedt and Dipl.-Psych. Anouk Zabal lead a team of researchers at GESIS that are responsible for the implementation and analysis of PIAAC in Germany.