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Understanding adults’ strong problem-solving skills based on PIAAC

Raija Hämäläinen (Faculty of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Jyvaskyla, Finland)
Bram De Wever (Department of Educational Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Kari Nissinen (Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)
Sebastiano Cincinnato (Department of Educational Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 11 September 2017




Research has shown that the problem-solving skills of adults with a vocational education and training (VET) background in technology-rich environments (TREs) are often inadequate. However, some adults with a VET background do have sound problem-solving skills. The present study aims to provide insight into the socio-demographic, work-related and everyday life factors that are associated with a strong problem-solving performance.


The study builds on large-scale data of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and gives insight into VET adults (N = 12,929) with strong problem-solving skills in 11 European countries.


This study introduces new knowledge with respect to the socio-demographic, work-related and everyday life background factors that contribute to successful VET adults’ problem-solving skills. The findings of the authors illustrate that a continuous process of development including non-formal and informal activity, as well as learning taking place at work, is associated with strong performance in problem-solving skills in TRE.

Research limitations/implications

An important implication of this study is that this paper introduces novel knowledge for VET adults’ competences and can be used to support the development of VET adults’ problem-solving skills in TREs.


The study was conducted to explore new understanding about good problem-solvers in TREs with a VET background. The originality of the study derives from its focus on good problem-solvers in TREs related to a VET background. The findings can be used to create novel ways to enhance the development of VET adults’ problem-solving skills in TREs.



This work was supported by the Academy of Finland under Grant number 292466 [the Multidisciplinary Research on Learning and Teaching profile of JYU].


Hämäläinen, R., De Wever, B., Nissinen, K. and Cincinnato, S. (2017), "Understanding adults’ strong problem-solving skills based on PIAAC", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 29 No. 7/8, pp. 537-553.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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