OECD Skills Outlook 2021 "Learning for Life", 15 June 2021


Remarks by Mathias Cormann,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 15 June 2021

Dear Commissioner Schmit, Minister Bianchi, dear colleagues,

I am delighted to be here with you to launch the fifth OECD Skills Outlook, entitled Learning for Life.

The greatest health crisis in a century has disrupted our economy and society.

It has transformed almost every aspect of our lives. And while the global vaccination campaign continues to make headway, economic and social recovery will take time, and require significant effort by countries all over the world.

The recovery plans many countries are putting in place must heal the scars of the crisis and respond to the structural changes that were already transforming our economies before the pandemic: digitalisation, globalisation, population ageing and climate change.

Most importantly, they should facilitate the opportunity for all to participate and to benefit from an optimised economic recovery.

The world needs effective policies aimed at developing the skills required to help match job seekers with employment opportunities in a growing 21st century economy.

That is why investing in lifelong learning is essential to seize the opportunities offered by these transformations. That is why the OECD is launching the 2021 Skills Outlook, focused on learning for life.

This edition provides key indicators to evaluate how well countries are doing in equipping individuals with the skills needed to thrive, and provides concrete policy recommendations to help our economies overcome this crisis and move towards a sustainable, inclusive recovery.

The ability to upskill and reskill, and to adapt and thrive in a fast-evolving world requires strong foundation skills – such as literacy and numeracy, a willingness to learn and an ingrained habit of learning.

Our efforts to facilitate their adaptability and resilience must not end when they leave school.

However, in several countries, many learners do not manage to develop their skills past the compulsory schooling stage. Even before the pandemic, only four in ten adults on average participated in adult learning across OECD countries.

This figure is as low as two in ten among those with few formal skills and qualifications. This is particularly concerning because these are the people that are likely to need this skills training the most, as they are invariably the cohort of workers facing the risks of automation.

The report also identifies a potential cause of gender inequality in access to training opportunities. Up to 28% of “inactive but motivated” women mention family obligations as a barrier to training, compared to only 8% of men.

Policy design must cater for this while ensuring training is affordable and accessible – putting learners at the centre of learning. Well-targeted lifelong learning can reduce broader socio-economic inequalities of opportunity by providing new opportunities to those who have been excluded in the past.

I am therefore encouraged to see ambitious EU initiatives such as the Next Generation EU fund, the Just Transition Fund and the European Skills Agenda, which will play a key role in helping European countries promote reskilling and upskilling in the recovery process.

The OECD also has great collaboration with DG REFORM to support policy implementation in the area of skills. Thank you Commissioner Schmit.

Italy has also developed very good measures providing economic incentives for workers to develop and use their skills, including through policy interventions that allows firms to benefit from a substantial tax reduction on the “productivity bonuses” to their most productive workers.

Our 2021 Skills Outlook makes a series of concrete recommendations. Effective lifelong learning policies should strive to place learners at the centre of learning, diversifying learning opportunities to make them relevant to different needs while maintaining high quality.

Policies should harness the power of technology while also considering the effects technology can have on existing skills inequalities and the creation of new ones.

Attention should be paid to building strong co-ordination and creating knowledge management systems and information sharing.

Finally, policies should aim at improving recognition, validation and accreditation procedures to enhance the visibility and transferability of the skills taught in adult learning programmes.

Let me also add that the OECD looks forward to the G20 joint Education and Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting in Catania later this month, which will hopefully build on today’s discussion.

Dear friends,

Lifelong learning must become a reality for everyone. The crisis has further intensified the transformation of our economy and our skills requirements. Effective and comprehensive learning for all is a must.

And it must begin in childhood and continue throughout life, from adulthood to old age. If we are to better adapt to future changes, crises and shocks, we can never stop learning.

As we recover from the shock of COVID-19, skills will make the difference between staying ahead or falling behind in a constantly changing world.

Countries will need to invest some resources in lifelong learning programmes, involve all key stakeholders, and focus in particular on vulnerable groups, including young people, women, and workers whose jobs are under threat of being transformed. Without such policies, we risk losing the opportunities offered by the recovery.

I wish you all a very productive discussion.

Thank you.


Related Documents


Annual report
2023 Ministerial Council Meeting documents
2023 Ministerial Council Statement