Preparing for tomorrow’s digital skills today: learning in and for the digital world

By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

In today’s world, technology is advancing faster than ever before. Developments in robotics and artificial intelligence have made particularly significant strides in recent years, and have begun to dramatically change the way people work, learn and communicate.

It is against this backdrop that the OECD and the government of Portugal jointly organised the Second Skills Summit on Skills for a Digital World. This event, held in Porto, Portugal on 28-29 June 2018, provided an opportunity for Ministers and other high-level officials from more than 20 countries to discuss the key challenges and opportunities that have emerged from digital transformation.

The Summit opened with remarks from OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría and Minister of Education Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, followed by three sessions that combined recent OECD evidence on digitalisation and skills with frank discussions about how skills policy can respond to the challenges and opportunities arising from digitalisation. Conversations brought up ways to balance the opportunities from digitalisation – such as access to mobile phones in countries lacking basic infrastructure – and its risks – such as the real potential of a disproportionate effect on vulnerable groups like the low-skilled and older adults.

Using technology as a way to improve and expand the scope of education across the lifespan was highlighted throughout the summit. Those attending agreed that preparing for the challenges and potential of digitalisation requires a radical rethinking both of the skill sets that learners receive across their lifetime and how they receive them. In order to create new value when confronted with automation, people need to innovate, think critically and creatively, and have strong problem-solving skills.

Workers of all education levels say there is a greater need for training when their workplaces become more exposed to digitalisation. In a changing world, the ability and desire to keep learning – to continuously upskill and reskill – is necessary to keep pace with technological innovations. Governments must therefore foster a culture of lifelong learning that extends from basic skills in formal education to social and emotional skills in VET and higher education and continuous training throughout the working life.

Working in a technology-rich environment significantly increases workers’ problem-solving skills.

Technology itself can provide access to these skills. Within formal education, ICT can be used in new pedagogical methods that teach non-tangible skills such as problem solving and empathetic thinking. Technology can also facilitate “open education” through MOOCs and other tools, allowing learning to continue across the lifespan as adults combine work with formal education, while reaching audiences who may not have otherwise pursued further learning. Working in a technology-rich environment significantly increases workers’ problem-solving skills, while those in non-digital environments are at risk of skills erosion.

Understanding the implications of digitalisation and finding flexible and effective policy responses are ongoing efforts – and that is where our work at the OECD comes in. Our cost analysis of upskilling or reskilling is crucial to developing the flexibility and adaptiveness that is needed in a digital economy. This work can look at the occupations most at risk from digitalisation and hone in on the skills and competencies that those looking to transition into other positions may need. Our newly released “Inclusive Growth Framework” puts inclusion at the centre of analysis and policy advice, focusing on those who face the greatest risks from digitalisation. Our “Going Digital” project looks at the wide range of implications that digitalisation has on economies and societies, while the OECD Centre for Skills provides insights on how to better coordinate and govern skills systems.

Over the course of the summit, Ministers discussed policy challenges and responses in their own countries, and areas where collective action can have most impact. Underscoring the need for a culture of lifelong learning and a whole-of-government approach to skills policy, they highlighted a number of areas for action for the next two years until the Skills Summit 2020, which will offer a chance to take stock of the progress they’ve made.

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