Skills Summit 2018 : Closing Plenary


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Porto, Portugal - 29 June 2018

(As prepared for delivery)




Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Portuguese Government for hosting this important summit and congratulate all of you for today’s very productive and stimulating discussions.


We have seen how skills can transform lives and drive economies – especially in a digital world. We have seen how good quality education and learning opportunities – which used to be the privilege of a small minority – need to be accessible for the many in order to boost prosperity and well-being.


And we know that policy can achieve a lot. Our host, Portugal, in four short decades has made substantive progress, raising its educational attainment and school performance. Today, Portuguese 15-year-olds exceed the OECD average in all three PISA domains (reading, math and science).


But such progress takes a concerted effort on the part of governments, stakeholders and societies at large. It also requires an approach that helps those who are well-placed to do even better while ensuring that those who stand to lose in a changing and digitalised world can obtain the necessary support.


The challenges of designing sound skills policies in the digital age

As mentioned during our discussions today, designing a sound skills policy is becoming both more difficult and more necessary in the digital age.


The opportunities brought by digitalisation are many: people can connect more easily with each other, access information, products and services at lower prices, learn for free and in ways that suit their specific needs and style, become entrepreneurs and enjoy greater autonomy at work and higher rewards for their skills.


But there is also another picture: that of people who lose their jobs to automation or who fall behind at work because they cannot keep up with the latest technology. There are also insidious effects of technology when it is not used positively or wisely – which can result in a loss of privacy and vulnerability to fake news, and even compromise democratic processes.


The two-edged nature of digitalisation, at once both empowering and disempowering, calls for careful policy design.


The way forward

In that context, let me highlight three insights I take from today’s rich discussions.


  • First, we need to understand clearly the problem at hand and gather evidence on what is happening. It is hard, as the world is changing faster and faster, but it is necessary. We should not focus solely on the number of people who are vulnerable to automation – although we will continue to refine our estimates of that – but also try to better understand what the digital transformation means for people’s lives, how it affects their aspirations and prospects. We must listen to the voices of those learning and working today and those who will be learning and working tomorrow. Only by doing this, and working with firms, sectors and regions will we be able to design sound, well-targeted and effective policies. 

  • Second, we need to stop thinking of education as an initial phase of life that paves the way to a job for life. We have talked for decades about the importance of lifelong learning. But the evidence we have on the change in labour markets and societies suggests that – if we want to ensure that everyone benefits – now is the time for governments to place a greater emphasis on facilitating learning for all, at all ages.

  • Third, creating lifelong learning systems means designing good governance and financing mechanisms that promote access and quality and encourage investments in learning from all parties, including citizens and firms. Governments cannot and should not do it alone.


The OECD is ready to help

The difficult challenge of identifying the problems and addressing them through sound policy can be best met through international dialogue and evidence-based analysis, which the OECD is committed to pursue.


We promise to continuously update our evidence base on the policies that work to help people thrive in our rapidly changing world. This is what we are doing through our updated OECD Skills Strategy. This will be published in 2019, seven years after our original Skills Strategy, to take account of a world where globalisation and digitalisation are the main concerns, alongside environmental degradation and political instability.


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me thank you again for your active participation, the frank exchanges and your ideas for collective action.  As always, we stand ready to work with you to build better skills policies for better lives.




See also:

OECD work on Skills

OECD work with Portugal


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