2016 Skills Summit opening remarks


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

OECD Secretary-General

2016 Skills Summit opening plenary

30 June 2016

Bergen, Norway

(As prepared for delivery)



Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:


Let me begin by thanking the Government of Norway ─ and in particular Prime Minister Solberg ─ for hosting this first Skills Summit. We are looking forward to a day of open, candid, and insightful discussions on skills strategies for productive, innovative, and inclusive societies.


Skills matter


With growth increasingly driven by productivity improvements, the future economic and social well-being of OECD countries will depend upon empowering citizens with the skills they need to succeed. Armed with the right skills, adults are more productive, earn more, and are twice as likely to have a job than the poorly skilled. They also have better lives: they are more likely to be in good health, trust others, and volunteer in their communities. We also know that people with poor skills, on the other hand, face a much greater risk of experiencing economic disadvantage, and a higher likelihood of unemployment and dependency on social benefits. For example, OECD analysis finds that almost 90% of adults in Norway with strong proficiency in literacy are employed, compared with less than two thirds of those with limited proficiency. 


To get skills right, governments need a clear picture of their citizens’ readiness to participate in, and benefit from, the 21st century job market. The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills, a product of our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), provides that picture. It captures information about adults’ proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills, and whether and how those skills are used on the job and in life.


Calibrating skills for the digital economy


Just yesterday, the OECD released Skills Matter, which updates and expands on our 2013 Survey of Adult Skills. The results are striking: in almost all of the 33 countries and economies covered, around one fifth of adults have poor reading skills and poor numeracy skills. And many are ill-equipped to capitalise on the opportunities created by the digital economy: around one in four adults has limited or no experience with computers or lacks confidence in their ability to use computers. In addition, nearly one in two adults working in technology-rich environments can only use familiar applications to solve problems that involve a few steps and explicit criteria, such as sorting e-mails into pre‑existing folders. 


Awareness of these issues ─ and the need for action ─ is growing. At the OECD 2016 Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy last week in Cancún, Ministers from OECD and Partner countries committed to developing novel strategies for education, training, and re-skilling to support workers in adapting to the digital economy.


They also agreed to design a new and innovative strategy to identify the mix of skills needed to boost quality employment and active participation in the digital economy, based on the OECD Skills Strategy. This meeting showcased exactly the kind of multidisciplinary, cross‑government conversation we need to have to solve complex skills issues. I hope that we can expand on these discussions today!


Investing in emotional and social skills


Of course, it’s not just cognitive and technical skills that matter. We must also seek to cultivate the emotional and social skills that equip and empower individuals to shape prosperous futures and participate effectively in thriving, inclusive societies.


Results from the OECD’s Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) and Starting Strong series confirm that these skills should be nurtured from early childhood to give our youngest citizens the best chance at achieving positive outcomes at later stages of their lives, such as completing school, finding a job, and earning a good salary.


Leveraging the skills of migrants


Finally, we must make every effort to harness the skills of migrants! Measures to assess and recognize foreign qualifications and skills are essential to make better use of the human capital of migrants and ensure that integration pathways meet their individual needs. It is also important to streamline legal processes and administrative procedures to facilitate the timely entry of migrants into the labour market and minimize the risk of skills atrophy.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


Looking ahead to today’s discussions, we want to hear about your experiences in developing national skills strategies. What have you done to create and sustain a national dialogue on skills? How has your country leveraged investment in skills to achieve sustainable growth and social inclusion? We also need to ask ourselves a tough question: Why ─ with all that we know about the importance of developing skills ─ do we struggle so much to make more progress?


The OECD stands ready, armed with evidence-based analysis, relevant data, and appropriate tools, to help answer these questions. We have already worked in partnership with 10 countries to develop and strengthen national skills strategies, and look forward to further engagement with each of you. Our new Centre for Skills ─ which I launched last night ─ will help identify, compile, exchange, and channel good practices for designing, developing and delivering better skills policies, for better lives.


Thank you. 



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