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Acting Head of OECD Centre for Skills: a strategic approach to skills is a whole-of-government affair

agenda 06101Skills are vital to enable people and countries to succeed in an increasingly complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world. Regarding the persistent regional inequalities and the relatively large impact of digital and demographic change in Lithuania, a strategic whole-of-government approach is needed in the country's skills policy, Andrew Bell, Acting Head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Centre for Skills, who led a team of experts who conducted a diagnostic study of the Lithuanian skills system, says.

What trends could be emphasized as the main ones regarding skills? What has the COVID-19 pandemic showed us?

In Lithuania, as in other OECD countries, megatrends such as digitalisation, globalisation, demographic change and climate change are transforming jobs and the way society functions and people interact. There are many consequences of these megatrends in Lithuania, including workers facing relatively high risks of job automation, employers often struggling to find the skills they need, and productivity becoming a more important driver of economic prosperity.

A particularly new challenge for skills is the COVID-19 crisis commencing in 2020. It has accelerated the digitalisation of learning and work, disrupted several economic sectors, and risks increasing inequalities in education and labour markets in Lithuania. The COVID-19 crisis has required a sudden transition to remote working in many occupations, forcing enterprises and workers to rapidly increase their digital competencies. Lithuania will need to encourage the development of skills and jobs that are more resilient to automation, and design interventions and investments to capture the benefits of digitalisation. Adult learning is essential for boosting adults’ skills, and has become more urgent in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on labour markets.

These megatrends and challenges reinforce the need for Lithuania to design forward-looking, dynamic skills policies. To thrive in the world of tomorrow, people will need a stronger and more comprehensive set of skills, underpinned by high-quality learning opportunities across the life course, as well as better opportunities to use skills in the labour market and workplaces.

What are the main drivers for effective skills planning? What is the role of Skills Strategy in this context?

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 co-ordinate financing arrangements.

In well-functioning skills systems, all actors should have sufficient opportunity to co-ordinate, as responsibilities for skills policies are dispersed. Skills policies should be guided by common goals and a shared vision across all relevant stakeholders and decision makers.

Comprehensive information systems on current skills policy outcomes and future skills needs, as well as on the career opportunities connected to current and future skills needs, are an essential building block of well-governed skills systems.

Countries also increasingly need to align and co-ordinate financing arrangements for skills policies. This includes the need to respond to financial challenges, such as the potential reallocation of funding commitments across different sectors of the skills system, dedicated funding commitments for strategic goals, and making the most efficient use of both national and European Commission funding.

The OECD Skills Strategy project in Lithuania has been a catalyst for strengthening the governance of Lithuania’s skills system, encouraging a whole-of-government approach to skills policies and engaging a broad range of stakeholders to obtain their perspectives on how best to improve Lithuania’s skills performance.

Regarding your experience in other countries – what are your main observations about development and implementation of Skills Strategy? What is the key to the achievements?

From our international experience, one important element of the implementation of a strategic approach to skills is whole-of-government involvement. Skills policies lie at the intersection of more “traditional” policy fields and so implicate ministries responsible for education, labour market, innovation, industrial and other policy domains. In Lithuania, the Lithuanian steering group and national project team for the Skills Strategy included representatives from a diverse range of institutions: The Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (LRV), Ministry of Social Security and Labour (SADM); Ministry of Education, Science and Sport (SMSM); Ministry of Economy and Innovation (EIM); Ministry of Finance (FINMIN); Government Strategic Analysis Center (STRATA); and trade union and employer representatives from the Tripartite Council.

Another important element for skills strategies is the active involvement of non-government stakeholders, who can bring much real-world insight to the discussion and have a role to play in skills development and use. The virtual assessment and recommendations consultations for this project involved bilateral meetings, expert group discussions, interactive stakeholder workshops, and webinars with government officials and stakeholders. The consultations sought not only to enrich the report with local insights, but also to develop a constructive dialogue and cultivate a shared understanding of skills challenges and opportunities as a basis for action. The OECD Skills Strategy project in Lithuania has engaged around 150 participants who represent ministries and agencies, municipalities, education providers, employers, workers, researchers, and other sectors.

As the core institution responsible for skills policy in many countries is believed to be the Ministry of Education. Instead of this approach OECD promote a whole-of-government approach. Could you please explain why is it important?

As noted earlier, skills policies lie at the intersection of more “traditional” policy fields and so implicate ministries responsible for education, labour market, innovation, industrial and other policy domains. In the countries we have worked with, ministries of education maintain their central role in educating young people in formal education. However, responsibilities for non-formal and adult learning are often more dispersed across different ministries, including ministries of labour and economy. Policies to activate people’s skills sit primarily with ministries of labour, but a large part of the activation challenge is adult learning and enterprise policy, which implicates other ministries. Furthermore, policies for adult learning, work and enterprise support can also influence how well skills are used in workplaces. Added to all of this is the increasing role of sub-national governments in skills policies. A trend we see is that local authorities and schools have increasing independence. Sub-national governments have responsibilities for active labour market programmes in almost half of OECD countries with available data. A strategic approach to skills is truly a whole-of-government affair.