2016 Skills Summit welcome remarks


Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD 

2016 Skills Summit welcome dinner

29 June 2016

Bergen, Norway

(As prepared for delivery)



Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:


We dine tonight in Haakon's Hall ─ The King’s Banquet Hall. For centuries, Norwegian leaders have gathered here to discuss important matters of state. Launching the Skills Summit in this historic venue reflects the critical importance of skills to our economies. Tonight and tomorrow, we have an opportunity for deep, frank, and open discussions to ensure that people are armed with the skills they need to thrive and realise their potential!   


Norway has led the way on skills. It was the first country to undertake an OECD Skills Strategy project in 2013, and has successfully completed work leading to a national skills strategy diagnostic report and an action report.


Since this first project, Austria, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Peru, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy, and Mexico have worked with the OECD to build their national skills strategies. Many of these countries are represented here tonight ─ as is the European Commission, which has been a key partner. We are also working with France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and South Africa.


Skills drive economies and transform lives. They are an essential ingredient for strengthening competitiveness, boosting productivity, and fostering innovation. Skills also matter for individual health, wealth, and well‑being.


The OECD’s Skills Strategy, Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives, highlights ongoing and emerging trends that make skills more important than ever.


  • First, in all OECD countries, the working-age population is now growing at a much slower rate than in the past. In some cases, it’s shrinking! Productivity and innovation are now the primary engines of economic growth.
  • Second, global value chains and technological advances are reshaping the structure of employment and ─ in the process ─ the skill requirements of jobs. Most of the jobs of our children don’t even exist today!
  • Third, countries are grappling with social challenges, including rising inequality and the integration of migrants.
  • Fourth, there is a growing need to catalyse innovation in the public sector ─ drawing on new developments in disciplines such as design, engineering, behavioural approaches, and data science ─ to address complex public challenges.


Better skills policies can help us transform these trends into opportunities.


Countries face challenges mobilising skills


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 their national policy agendas. The latest results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills ─ a product of our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) ─  released only yesterday, show that in the 33 countries and economies surveyed around one in five adults has poor reading skills, with around the same proportion having poor numeracy skills.


This is bad for well-being, and equality, but it’s also bad for the economy. Low-skilled individuals are at a huge disadvantage in the labour market. As technology and digitalisation advance at high speed, it is crucial that people are not left behind. The results of the Survey show that around one in four adults has no or only limited experience with computers or lacks confidence in their ability to use computers. In addition, nearly one in two adults lacks problem solving skills in technology-rich environments.


Despite talk about the importance of work-based learning, widespread deficiencies remain in validating and recognising skills. And we are seeing a significant level of skills mismatch, with over one in five workers reporting that they are overqualified and over one in ten reporting they are underqualified for their jobs. Taken together, this is over a third of the workforce!


And these are people already in work. Across the OECD, millions of young people are finding the transition from school to work nearly impossible. According to last year’s OECD Education at a Glance, 15.5% of 15-29 year-olds were not in employment, education or training (the so-called NEETs). For 20-29 year-olds, this number is around one in five.


NEETs are more often women than men. Women are also far less likely to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. This reflects how stereotyping holds women back, and also prevents them from developing skills in key growth areas. On average, in OECD countries, 76% of graduates in engineering, manufacturing, and construction programmes are men.


Given that many countries are struggling with the same challenges, international co‑operation is essential to allow countries to learn from one another and make much-needed progress.


The OECD Centre for Skills


The OECD recognises your need for better information, tools, and advice to address these issues. And we are here to help!


And tonight, I am delighted to launch the OECD Centre for Skills. This Centre will support countries in developing and implementing better skills policies using the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach of the OECD Skills Strategy. It will have three main functions:


  • First, the Centre will continue to carry out national skills strategy projects with both member and non-member countries, building on our successful experience.
  • Second, it will mobilise multidisciplinary expertise to develop analytical tools and promote peer‑learning at biennial Skills Summits.
  • Third, the Centre will update regularly the OECD Skills Strategy to ensure that it continues to respond to your changing needs.


We are very excited about the opportunities that the Centre will offer. I encourage you to make full use of this new instrument in developing your own national skills policies.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


The Greek philosopher Epictetus said that “only the educated are free”. Skills give people the freedom to pursue opportunity, the freedom to fulfil their potential, to change their lives, and expand their horizons. When you invest in skills, you invest directly in people. When you improve skills, you lift people. The OECD will continue to mobilise and strengthen its capacity, networks, and comparative data on skills so that, together, we can design, deliver and implement better skills policies for better lives.


Thank you.




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