From education to employment

OECD Skills Strategy 2019: Skills to Shape a Better Future

Angel Gurría, Secretary-General,Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The OECD Skills Strategy provides a strategic and comprehensive approach for ensuring that people and countries have the skills to thrive in a complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world.

The updated 2019 OECD Skills Strategy takes account of the lessons learned from applying the original skills strategy in 11 countries since 2012, while also incorporating new OECD evidence about the skills implications of megatrends, such as globalisation, digitalisation, population ageing, and migration.

The Strategy also incorporates new learning from across the OECD about skills policies that work in these three broad components: developing relevant skills over the life course, using skills effectively in work and society, and strengthening the governance of skills systems.

Skills are vital in enabling individuals and countries to thrive in an increasingly complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world.

Countries in which people develop strong skills, learn throughout their lives, and use their skills fully and effectively at work and in society are more productive and innovative, enjoy higher levels of trust, better health outcomes and a higher quality of life. Skills policies play a central role in paving countries’ development path by, for example, easing the adoption of new technologies and moving up the value added chain; they also make countries more attractive to foreign direct investment and tend to help foster more tolerant and cohesive societies.

Like globalisation, digitalisation and demographic change transform jobs and the way societies function and people interact. Against this background, the impetus for getting skills right is growing. To thrive in the world of tomorrow, people will need higher levels and different types of skills.

Implementing skills reforms effectively is a complex task, since skills policy is located at the intersection of education, labour market, industrial and other policy domains. This implies the need to coordinate and collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders, including ministries, officials at all levels of government, students, teachers, workers, employers, trade unions, and many others. Inter-sectoral reforms are often associated with very complex redistributive trade-offs as they are characterised by distribution and redistribution of resources across and between sectors as well as levels of government. Therefore, when designing and implementing skills policies, governments often face enormous political and technical challenges.

Since its launch in 2012, the OECD Skills Strategy has provided countries with a strategic and comprehensive approach to assessing their skills challenges and opportunities.

In 2013, the OECD Skills Strategy approach went “national” with the development of tailored national skills strategy projects carried out in close co-operation with inter-ministerial teams in each country. Each project is designed to foster a whole-of-government approach, bringing together relevant ministries to better understand the country’s goals for the future, identify the priority areas for action, as well as to design and align skills policies to improve that particular country’s skills performance. In addition, these projects have engaged different stakeholders to improve our understanding of the current skills challenges and opportunities; solicit their perspectives on what policy responses are needed and supported; validate policy recommendations; and build support to take joint action to implement policies.

However, much has changed in the intervening years. The 2019 OECD Skills Strategy incorporates lessons learned from applying the OECD Skills Strategy framework in 11 countries, including new evidence about the implications of so-called megatrends, such as:

  • globalisation,
  • digitalisation,
  • population ageing or migration.

It also accounts for new evidence about skills policies that work under the proper governance arrangements, including:

  • effective co-ordination and accountability mechanisms,
  • efficient funding from different sources and information systems.

The 2019 OECD Skills Strategy draws upon learning across the Organisation, including:

  • the OECD Centre for Skills (SKC);
  • the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (ELS);
  • the Directorate for Education and Skills (EDU);
  • the Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI);
  • the Economics Department (ECO);
  • the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration (CTP);
  • the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities (CFE);
  • the Public Governance Directorate (GOV) and
  • the Development Centre (DEV).

The update has also benefited from the strong support and fruitful exchanges with the delegates of the Education Policy Committee, the Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee, the Skills Strategy Advisory Group, and representatives of the Trade Union Advisory Committee and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee.

The key policy recommendations are organised around three broad components of the updated 2019 OECD Skills Strategy:

  1. Developing relevant skills over the life course. To ensure that countries are able to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, all people need access to opportunities to develop and maintain strong proficiency in a broad set of skills. This process is lifelong, starting in childhood and youth and continuing throughout adulthood. It is also “life-wide”, occurring not only formally in schools and higher education, but also non-formally and informally in the home, community and workplaces.

  2. Using skills effectively in work and society. Developing a strong and broad set of skills is just the first step. To ensure that countries and people gain the full economic and social value from investments in developing skills, people also need opportunities, encouragement and incentives to use their skills fully and effectively at work and in society.

  3. Strengthening the governance of skills systems. Success in developing and using relevant skills requires strong governance arrangements to promote co-ordination, co-operation and collaboration across the whole of government; engage stakeholders throughout the policy cycle; build integrated information systems; and align and coordinate financing arrangements.

Skills are an essential ingredient for human progress. As our societies and economies are increasingly shaped by new technologies and trends, getting skills policies right becomes even more critical for ensuring well-being and promoting growth that is inclusive and sustainable. The OECD will continue to work with countries to design, develop and deliver better skills policies for better lives in a rapidly changing world.

Angel Gurría, Secretary-General,Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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