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OECD Perspectives: Skills key for tackling joblessness & improving well-being

OECD - Andreas Schleicher

- Global

- Mar 4 2014

Jobs, wealth and the quality of life depend on nothing more than on what people know and what they can do with what they know. There is no shortcut to equipping people with the right skills. And if there’s one lesson the global economy has taught us over the last few years, it’s that we cannot simply bail ourselves out of a crisis, that we cannot solely stimulate ourselves out of a crisis and that we cannot just print money our way out of a crisis. What we can do is equip more people with better skills to collaborate, compete and connect in ways that lead to better jobs and better lives and drive our economies forward.

Quality of life increasingly hinges on the skills of individuals: OECD’s new Skills Survey shows that poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs. The distribution of skills also has significant implications for how the benefits of economic growth are shared within societies, which shapes the quality of life at aggregate levels. And in all countries with comparable data, adults with lower skills are far more likely than those with better skills to report poor health, to perceive themselves as objects rather than actors in political processes, and to have less trust in others, which all shows that investing in better skills can help raise the quality of life. Perhaps most importantly, skills are the key enablers for people to live in, and contribute to, a multi-faceted world as active and responsible citizens, and to appreciate and build on different values, beliefs and cultures. These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold, often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary, and sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. The right skills help people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. And at the aggregate level, they provide communities, institutions and infrastructure with the needed flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to economic and social change.

So how do we get there? To begin, we need to better anticipate the skills that are needed to reignite our economies. Seeing unemployed graduates on the street, while employers say they cannot find the people with the skills they need, shows clearly that more education alone does not automatically translate into better jobs and better lives. That often means putting a premium on skills-oriented learning throughout life instead of on qualifications-focused education that ends when the working life begins. Engaging employers in learning is key to this. Learning in the workplace allows young people to develop “hard” skills on modern equipment, and “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation, through real-world experience. Hands-on workplace training can also help to motivate disengaged youth to stay in or re-engage with the education system and makes the transition from education into the labour market smoother.

This is not going to work unless everyone is involved: governments, which can design financial incentives tax policies that are favourable to the development of skills; education systems, which can foster entrepreneurship; employers, which invest in learning; labour unions, which can ensure that investments in training are reflected in better-quality jobs and higher salaries; and individuals, who take better advantage of learning opportunities and shoulder more of the financial burden. Through developing relevant skills, companies thus play a key role in improving the quality of lives. But employers can do more than this:learning opportunities need to be more relevant to users and flexible enough, both in content and in how they are delivered (part-time, flexible hours, convenient location) to adapt to workers needs. None of this is easy,  but success will go to those individuals, companies and countries that are swift to adapt, and open to change.

Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General

About the OECD: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a global economic policy forum. It provides analysis and advice to its 34 member governments and other countries worldwide, promoting better policies for better lives. 

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