Skills Summit 2016: Skills strategies for innovation, productivity and inclusion

by Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Building the skills needed to succeed at work and in life: Charting the path to 2025

In all OECD countries the working-age population is now either growing at a much slower rate than in the past or shrinking, making productivity and innovation the primary engines of economic growth. The expansion of global value chains and technological advances are reshaping the structure of employment and the skill requirements of jobs. Skills demand and supply continue to diverge rather than converge, despite large numbers of unemployed in many countries and pockets of entrenched unemployment in all. Everywhere, too few adults are upgrading their skills in response to the rapidly changing skills needs of the economy and society. At the same time, countries are also struggling with significant social challenges, such as rising inequality and large increases in flows of migrants. Skills are central to responding to all of these challenges.
On June 29 and 30, 26 Ministers and senior government officials from 15 countries representing a wide range of portfolios, including education, employment, trade, economy, and local government, met in Bergen, Norway, for the Skills Summit 2016: Skills Strategies for Productivity, Innovation and Inclusion. They gathered to chart a path towards 2025 and departed with a renewed resolve to prepare their countries for the skills challenges on the horizon.
Effective skills strategies are essential, yet hard to build

Building effective national skills strategies is critical for making progress on these issues, but countries often struggle to foster the government and society-wide commitment needed to make cross-sectoral skills strategies a reality.
Participants at the Skills Summit spoke frankly about the difficulties they face in putting skills policy at the top of a crowded policy agenda and keeping it there. While action needs to be taken today to ensure that we have the skills we will need tomorrow, this can often be forgotten in the face of pressures to respond to the immediate crises of the day. Too often, the urgent crowds out the important.
Evidence from many quarters, including the Survey of Adult Skills which released new country data earlier this week, shows that skills are critical to people’s economic and social success. What is far less clear is what skills will matter the most in the future. People need to develop skills today that will allow them to succeed in jobs that in many cases do not yet exist, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve problems that have not yet been identified.  It is even possible that in the future, as technological advances replace more and more of the work currently performed by humans, we will be asking less about what skills matter for the labour market and more about what skills matter for meaningful social participation and inclusion. While none of us knows for sure what challenges and opportunities the future holds, what is certain is that we will face them with the skills we develop today.
At the Summit, Ministers acknowledged the need to craft whole-of-government approaches to skills policy. A wide range of factors influence skills needs and outcomes, and responsibility for these areas is spread widely across many ministries and all levels of government. Beyond the ministries of education and employment, ministries of industry, economic development and finance are also involved. Despite growing awareness, all too often cross-ministerial and cross- government collaboration fails to happen in practice.
Collaboration with social partners and other stakeholders is equally critical if we are to achieve enduring success in developing and deploying skills effectively. Ministers were clear that Governments cannot act in splendid isolation if their aim is to improve skills outcomes. Yet engaging employers, labour and people in the co-production of skills policies is complex and requires sustained political commitment.
Maximising a country’s skills potential is everyone’s business. As hosts of the Skills Summit, and pioneers in undertaking a national skills strategy project with the OECD, Norway was well placed to share lessons learned from its experience in building shared commitment and concerted action across ministries, counties, local governments and social partners. Ever-mindful that the actions Norway takes today will drive innovation, productivity and prosperity in the future, while ensuring that no-one is left behind.
International cooperation on skills policies is needed to deliver better skills outcomes

So what more can be done? Despite their diversity, countries appear to be struggling with similar and longstanding challenges, so there is a clear case to be made for greater international cooperation in this area. The Skills Summit provided a valuable opportunity for countries to learn from one another. But it was just a starting point.
For its part, the OECD is upgrading its capacity to meet growing demand from countries for support in building effective skills strategies.
During the Skills Summit, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría announced the launch of the OECD Centre for Skills saying “Better skills policies can help us to overcome these challenges and transform many into opportunities”, according to Angel Gurría, Secretary General at the OECD. “But despite growing recognition of the importance of skills for economic growth and social inclusion, many countries are still failing to anchor skills policies at the centre of national policy agendas and make progress on long standing skills challenges.”
This Centre will support countries in developing and implementing better skills policies in three main ways:
  • First, the Centre will continue to carry out national skills strategy projects with both member and non-member countries, building upon our successful experience to date of working with 10 countries;
  • Second, the Centre will mobilise expertise from across the OECD to develop useful analytical tools while promoting peer-learning by convening policy-makers at the Skills Summit and practitioners on a regular basis;
  • Third, the Centre will draw upon this rich experience to periodically update the OECD Skills Strategy to ensure it continues to respond to countries’ changing and evolving needs.
At the OECD we are excited about the new opportunities that the Centre will offer countries. For it is only by working together that in 2025 we will be able to fuel innovation, productivity and inclusion through better skills.
For more on the OECD’s work on skills and skills policies around the world, visit:
Photo credit:@OECD

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