Let’s talk about skills

by Joanne Caddy
Senior Analyst, Skills Beyond School Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

In a quiet room in downtown Oslo, a group of people are in deep discussion.

Gathered around a table strewn with markers, glue and crumpled paper, their assignment is to help Kari. The card they have been given describes her as a 17-year-old drop-out who wants to find a job. They have 15 minutes to fill in a poster with concrete advice on how Kari could navigate her way through the tangled undergrowth of unemployment services, career guidance and training programmes to achieve her goal.

Aptly named, the “Skills Obstacle Course” is just one of the many interactive exercises which the OECD has designed to generate in-depth and structured discussions among highly diverse stakeholders – drawn from businesses, trade unions, education institutions and student associations – together with broad inter-ministerial teams responsible for various facets of national skills policy. Nourished by comparative data and guided by multidisciplinary OECD teams, these workshops offer fertile ground on which to challenge assumptions and foster frank policy dialogue. Recent data from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) also offers new insights as workshop participants gather together to identify the main skills challenges facing their country today and their vision of the future.

The conversation is spreading. Over the past few months, equally animated discussions about skills have been taking place in Vienna and Seoul.

Austria, Korea and Norway are the first countries to have launched collaborative projects with the OECD on building effective skills strategies and others will follow. Drawing on the three-pillar framework of the OECD Skills Strategy – developing relevant skills, activating skills supply and effective use of skills – each project is tailored to the country’s specific circumstances and priorities. Norway faces the challenge of reducing drop-outs and ensuring strong foundation skills for all, Austria is grappling with how to activate the skills of migrants and women, while Korea is looking for better ways to use the skills of women in the workforce and foster entrepreneurship.

Each country project is unique, yet they share three common features: first, a broad, strategic perspective on the national “skills system” encompassing policies on education, employment, migration, taxation and local economic development. Second, a strong focus on the enabling conditions which foster better skills outcomes, including the need for a ‘whole of government’ approach to skills. Third, a strong commitment to engaging all relevant stakeholders in crafting a shared understanding of the skills challenges ahead and how to tackle them. Why? Because experience shows that policy dialogue, fuelled by data, is the only solid foundation on which to generate effective action.

So let’s keep talking about skills.

OECD Skills Strategy
Survey of Adult Skills
For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit: http://skills.oecd.org/
See also the country pages on skills for Norway, Austria and Korea
Related blog posts on skills:
Skill up or lose out, by Andreas Schleicher
Time for the U.S. to Reskill? by Viktoria Kis

Photo credit: paper lightbulb @ Shutterstock

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