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.
Given the rapid pace of change in today’s world, a high degree of adaptability is needed for people to grasp life’s many opportunities and address its myriad challenges. Important elements in developing adaptability include making sure people acquire the right mix of skills, use them effectively at work and in everyday life, and continuously update them throughout their lifetimes. Megatrends such as globalisation, digitalisation and demographic change are having a major impact on the way people work, socialise, obtain information, purchase goods and enjoy leisure time. These trends, in turn, increasingly influence the skills that people need to navigate this complexity, face uncertainty, and adapt to this rapidly changing landscape. The challenges are real and should not be underestimated, but much can be done to influence the outcomes. People equipped with the right skills for work and life will turn these challenges into opportunities and will play an active role in shaping the future. In contrast, people who remain ill-prepared will be at risk of being left behind and feeling threatened. The balance between the former and the latter will depend on whether governments implement the right policies and will determine whether countries thrive or struggle.
Since 2012, the OECD has embarked on an ambitious agenda to understand skills systems from a whole-of-government approach and identify good practices that lead to better outcomes, especially in a world where skills needs are changing substantially. This led to the development of the OECD Skills Strategy, which has since gone national. Its cross-government approach and recognition of the roles of other key stakeholders were designed to overcome the limitations of working in silos so that policies can be better aligned and co-ordinated in order to ensure a positive and substantial impact. It has also engaged stakeholders in the development and implementation of policies, learning from their expertise, creating a sense of ownership, and making them responsible and accountable for the roles they play. Work carried out in 11 countries have generated new insights and revealed some important barriers to success that need to be overcome in implementing skills policies.
Additional work carried out by different parts of the OECD has also contributed to this body of knowledge, by identifying: the best international practices that lead to high-quality and equitable education systems; how to better align the supply and demand for skills, thus minimising mismatches; the impact that skills have on employability and earnings, as well as on other social outcomes; and the relationships between the skills and productivity, as well as sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
At this point, the time is ripe to update the OECD Skills Strategy. The main changes included in the update are:
- A revised strategy to respond to the megatrends that are having and will have a significant impact on the skills needed for successful careers and fulfilling lives. A paradigm shift is needed in skills policies to ensure people can be equipped with higher levels of skills and with new sets of horizontal skills. In addition, traditional front-loaded education systems need to evolve into lifelong learning models, so that adults can continue to reskill and upskill in order to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape. This requires a redesign of skills systems.
- A stronger emphasis on a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, which builds on the lessons learned from working at the national level with many countries and has allowed us to conclude that the major factor limiting the impact of skills policies is the “silo” approach. The complexity of skills systems requires that policies from different sectors (education, labour, industry, economy, tax, etc.,) are well aligned, and the trade-offs identified, in order to obtain the expected returns. A piece-meal approach risks having little impact.
- The introduction of a new component of the strategy: strengthening the governance of skills systems. The development of lifelong learning systems requires the participation of many actors including different ministries, levels of government (central, regional, local) and stakeholders (such as employers, unions and private providers). Governance refers to the way in which responsibilities are shared and co-ordinated between all the relevant actors, the way in which they contribute to efficient funding, and the development of information systems that help identify the respective roles of each stakeholder, the resources available, the policies to be adopted and the impact of these policies.
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