Working together to build the culture of learning in the Netherlands

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director for Education and Skills, OECD

The Dutch are known for making a virtue of necessity. Now is a time when their reputation will be put to the test.
The Netherlands’ economy and society are being transformed by technological change, increased economic integration, population ageing, increased migration and other pressures. A highly skilled population with the opportunities, incentives and motivation to develop and use their skills fully and effectively will be essential for confronting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the future. The Dutch skills system is strong compared to others internationally, but still the Dutch understand that for a small country with an open economy to remain competitive, it will need to reinforce the foundation of skills on which Dutch success has been built.
The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands, published today, identifies nine key skills challenges for the Netherlands and three priority areas for action.
So what are the priority areas for action?
  1. Fostering more equitable skills outcomes: The Dutch skills system works well to ensure that most people develop strong skills. Still, a large number of adults have very low levels of skills that mean they have trouble extracting information from longer and more complex texts or performing numerical tasks involving several steps. Too often these people are not actively engaged in learning to improve their skills. Older workers with still many years of working life ahead of them and migrants account for a sizable share of the low-skilled population. With the costs of marginalisation so high, and with an ageing population, the Netherlands cannot afford to waste its precious talent. 
  2. Creating skills-intensive workplaces: Despite having comparatively highly skilled population, the Netherlands could use these skills more intensively at work. Small and medium-sized firms, especially, could do more to get the most out of the skills of their workers. The increased adoption of high performance workplace practices, in particular, has potential to foster greater skills use at work, resulting in higher productivity, wages and greater job satisfaction.
  3. Promoting a learning culture: Despite many years of talk in the Netherlands about the importance of developing a learning culture and the introduction of a series of policy measures aimed at making it a reality, the country is still far from realising this aim, as evidenced by the low “readiness to learn” of Dutch adults when compared with their peers in other OECD countries. Many stakeholders confirm this assessment, finding that the Netherlands has much more to do in order to transform itself into a learning economy.
The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands reflects the many valuable contributions received from four ministries, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands and hundreds of stakeholders who shared their perspectives on what are the key skills challenges facing the country and their causes, and proposed some good practices for addressing these challenges.
In a series of workshops, the Dutch lived up to their reputation for frankness and self-reflection, with many claiming that too many people in the Netherlands were neither developing the “right” skills to succeed, nor taking sufficient responsibility for maintaining and further developing their skills in adulthood. Firms also came in for some criticism for not investing sufficiently in the skills of their workers. Stakeholders also lamented that fact the Netherlands was failing to live up to its ambitions for creating a learning society.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Netherlands is one of collective action. Taking action in these priority areas will require that governments, individuals, employers, trade unions, education and training providers and others take joint responsibility and action. 
Along with presenting a number of specific recommendations for addressing the countries skills challenges, the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands proposes the creation of skills strategy founded on a commitment to a “national skills pact” that goes beyond a virtuous “statement of intent”. One that would, at a minimum, be guided by a shared vision, specify the concrete actions that each partner needs to take, and establishes performance measures and clear public reporting requirements for all partners.
In the past, it took a whole of society effort to build the dikes and canals that protected the Netherlands from flooding and allowed it to reclaim land for habitation and cultivation. Today, the Dutch once again need to call upon their talent for collective action, this time to shore up the skills foundation upon which they will secure their future for generations to come.
For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit:
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDSkills

Join us on Edmodo

Leave a Reply