Problem solving in technology-rich environments

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Percentage who scored in advanced PS-TRE levels, 2012

What is this metric and why is it important?

Problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) measures problem-solving skills while recognizing the fact those skills are different in the digital world in which we exist. Indeed, these skills are even more important in the innovation economy, where the ability to navigate this ever-changing environment is foundational. We report on the percentage of people in a country that have shown advanced skill levels on an international test.

How is Canada doing?

  • 36% of those in Canada demonstrated advanced problem-solving in technology rich environments, which is above the OECD average of 30% but below leaders such as New Zealand and Sweden at 44% and Finland at 42%
  • The difference in the percentage of men who achieved advanced levels versus women is quite small in Canada, at 1.4 percentage points versus an average of 4.0 percentage points. The OECD average is driven by high differences in Japan, the UK, and Germany.

Metric discussion

Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments (PS-TRE) is the “ability to use digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks.” The test assesses “the ability to solve problems for personal, work and civic purposes by setting up appropriate goals and plans, as well as accessing and making use of information through computers and computer networks.” The test is administered by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Participants receive a score out of 500, which is then categorized into three levels, with Level 1 indicating basic proficiency, Levels 2 and 3 indicating advanced proficiency, and those falling below Level 1 deemed to have insufficient PS-TRE skills.

PS-TRE is one of three skills from PIAAC that we investigate, the others being numeracy and literacy. Living and working in a rapidly changing society and economy requires that all people have basic levels of all three, as well as the capacity to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives.


PIAAC is still a relatively new and infrequently used assessment, so it tends to provide only a snapshot of adult skills. Moreover, adult skills in aggregate do not tend to move very quickly, so changes over time are minimal. The differences between countries are also quite small, and these two facts together make this metric difficult to use in explaining differences in innovation. 

However, the distribution of skills attainment across different demographic categories can play an important role in understanding differences in individuals’ participation in and benefit from the economy. More work is needed to link skills scores with achievement in education and the economy.

© Inclusive Innovation Monitor 2021