Building vulnerable people’s skills for a digital, green, & inclusive world

5 young people sit on some concrete steps discussion something with each other. The boy in the middle holds a laptop. The sun is setting

By Bart Staats

Policy Analyst, OECD Centre for Skills

and Ana Sofía Gómez

Intern, OECD Centre for Skills

Key points:

– It is essential to upskill and reskill the most vulnerable groups in the context of megatrends
– We must focus on developing the skills for the future world of work – including strong digital, socio-emotional and green skills
– Countries need to have skills systems that support the education and integration of migrants and refugees

In OECD countries, about 8 out of 10 adults with low levels of education do not participate in formal and non-formal learning; 68% of adults with low levels of education in the EU do not have basic digital skills or do not use computers; and 11.3% of youth were unemployed in January 2022 in the OECD area. These figures demonstrate why countries should focus a big part of their attention on strengthening skills for equity and sustainability by providing effective up- and reskilling opportunities for all. This was exactly the topic of the Skills Summit 2022, which took place on 24-25 March in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Summit brought together ministers and senior officials with responsibilities for diverse skills-relevant portfolios – from employment and education to economic development and innovation – to advance the skills agenda and to provide them with a unique opportunity to engage in frank and open discussions about skills policies. More than 200 participants representing 39 countries and 9 international and regional organisations attended the Summit in-person and virtually, discussing their experience in designing and implementing policies to address the challenge of developing skills of the most vulnerable groups – in particular young people and individuals from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. So what did we take away?

Keep in mind the overall context

Skills are key for individuals to adapt and succeed in labour markets and societies shaped by longer life expectancy, rapid technological advances, globalisation, as well as sudden shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the demand for skills in the labour market is undergoing substantial changes because of these trends, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that workers and individuals have opportunities to upskill and reskill throughout life so that they can continue to participate fully in society. This is especially true for vulnerable groups.

The Colombian Sácudete Strategy is one example of an initiative aimed at strengthening 21st century skills.  It provides training to more than 370 000 adolescents, working on skills such as critical thinking, digital skills, innovation, creativity, leadership, assertive communication, citizenship, teamwork, and empathy. The summit provided a space to young Colombians to apply the 21st century skills learnt through the Sácudete Strategy in a battle of ideas with the side event on “Up- and reskilling the present and future generations”.

Work together to set in place supporting policies

The amount countries will benefit from digitalisation and technological innovations will ultimately depend on their ability to develop a set of policies that help workers adapt to changes and develop relevant skills to thrive in the digital world. Digital technologies are contributing to a new wave of automation and are likely to impact close to one out of every two jobs, according to estimates. In this landscape, it is urgent for countries to focus on equipping workers with the necessary skills to develop and work with such technologies, including strong cognitive and socio-emotional skills, alongside digital skills.

Share of jobs at a high risk of automation or at risk of significant change (%)

Source: Nedelkoska, L. and G. Quintini (2018), “Automation, skills use and training”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 202, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Like digitalisation, the transition to a green economy creates opportunities for firms and workers, but also short and medium-term economic and social costs. Policies fostering green growth could lead to job creation in several sectors, such as renewable energy, organic agriculture. It is also likely to lead to job losses in emission-intensive sectors, including relatively high-paying jobs. Labour market and skills policies play a key role in enabling countries to better manage and benefit from the green transition.

During the summit, participants were shown some of the programmes that Colombia uses in vocational schools to develop the skills demanded by orange (creative), digital and green economies. Schools have been preparing men and women in tech-driven gourmet coffee making, simulations using virtual reality, and solar panels production. Pilot programmes are developed with private sector experts and scaled up in centres throughout the country if successful.

Make room for newcomers

Unsurprisingly, given the current situation in Ukraine and Colombia’s reception of over 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants, a recurring topic at the summit was the role of skills systems in supporting the education and integration of migrants and refugees. New flows of migrants are creating challenges for countries around the globe, from enrolling children and youth in schools, to integrating adults into labour markets and recognising skills and qualifications.

For example, Colombia implemented the project “Second Fiscal Sustainability, Competitiveness, and Migration Development Policy Financing” in 2019, which supported the regularisation and integration of Venezuelan migrants. The U.S. currently provides Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to over 400 000 foreign nationals, which makes them eligible for an employment authorization document (EAD). During the summit, participants heard from Venezuelan migrants who told their stories of integrating into the labour market.

Skills policy has a central role to play in reducing high and growing economic and social inequalities, particularly for disadvantaged groups. Countries’ commitment to upskill and reskill these groups today will enable them to integrate a digital, green, and inclusive world tomorrow. The countries attending the Skills Summit 2022 certainly intend to.

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