Skills Summit 2018 - Opening of Plenary Session


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Porto, Portugal - 29 June 2018

(As prepared for delivery) 


(As prepared for delivery) 


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you again Minister, for welcoming us to the second Skills Summit. The presence of several Portuguese Cabinet Ministers here today is testament to this country’s political commitment in taking up the baton from the Norwegians after the very successful inaugural Skills Summit in Bergen two years ago. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jan Tore Sanner, Minister of Education and Integration, for Norway’s leadership.


I would like to welcome all the OECD member countries here today, as well as Lithuania and Colombia, who have now been formally invited to become members of the OECD.


I would also like to welcome Kazakhstan, which will soon embark on a National Skills Strategy project with the OECD. And, of course, I would like to extend a warm welcome to the European Commission, which has placed skills squarely at the centre of the European policy dialogue and has always been a great supporter of our work on skills.


This Meeting is vital, because we need a frank and open international dialogue on skills, especially in the context of the fast-moving digital revolution. We need to share our experiences about what worked, what didn’t and why, because many countries are facing common challenges.


Inclusive growth

Firstly, we need to make sure digitalisation does not worsen divides between people.


While there are higher rewards for skills in a digital work environment, today still 1 in 4 adults in the OECD have low skills. All too often, disadvantaged individuals are not being given the start they need, and this brings big costs further down the line, both to those people themselves and to our economies.


Many jobs in demand in the digital economy require specific skills, such as computational thinking, but at age 15, children in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status had only an 18% chance of pursuing a career in science – against a 32% chance for children from the top quarter.


Risks and opportunities in a digital world: the changing landscape of skills needs

My directors, in three separate sessions, will share insights about the impact of digitalisation, the importance of rethinking education and lifelong learning policies for a digital world, and how to better implement skills policies.


Let’s start with scale: the number of connected devices in and around people’s homes in OECD countries is expected to increase from 1 billion in 2016 to 14 billion by 2022. And since 2000, the use of robots in agriculture, mining and manufacturing has tripled.


We know that automation profoundly changes the nature of work: our latest estimates show that about 14% of jobs across the 32 countries we reviewed are at high risk of automation, and another 32% have a moderate risk of being automated. So close to one out of two jobs will be affected by automation.


This means people will need new sets of skills, higher levels of skills, and diverse bundles of skills. And they will need to regularly upgrade these skills.


Rethinking education and lifelong learning policies

So rethinking education and lifelong learning policies will be our second topic of discussion.


We’ll need to start by equipping youth with the right knowledge, skills and values so they can be active and responsible citizens able to deal with the uncertainties and contradictions of a complex world.


To do this, we need to involve young people in the process. We need to understand their fears and expectations and to give them meaningful opportunities to shape skills policies that will have a profound impact on their future.


Of course, how students are taught is critical. We’ll talk about the role of technology in learning and present evidence that will likely surprise you. For example, did you know that, on average, students who use technology the most at school achieve lower results? This means a lot of work remains to be done to leverage the potential of technology, and ensure teachers are prepared to make the best use of it.


Good lifelong learning systems will need to become a reality. In some countries, 60% of adults report having participated in education or training over the past 12 months (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands). But in others, this figure is below 30% (Italy and Russia).


And most striking is the difference by skill level. Less than 1 in 3 people with low skills said they participated in learning over the past year. This number is 73% for those at the top of the scale. We need to do more to create lifelong learning systems for all.


Implementing better skills policies

Then, we’ll move to the toughest part: how do we make policies work? How do we make reform happen?


Our policies need to be more effective. Skills assessment and anticipation systems provide a good example: these systems, to evaluate current and future skills needs, exist in many countries, but are not always designed to be useful to their end users – individuals, firms but also guidance counsellors and policy-makers.


Better coordination of all actors and strong governance of our policies and systems to improve skills is critical. With this question also comes that of financing: who should pay for what? What is the right approach to ensure that skills investments are efficient? These issues are central to the work that the OECD Centre for Skills is developing, which you’ll hear about later today.


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I look forward to a lively and vigorous discussion today. By pooling and sharing our knowledge, we can achieve better skills policies for better lives.  Thank you.




See also:

OECD work on Skills

OECD work on Inclusive Growth

OECD work with Portugal


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