How can cities and regions deliver the skills of the future?

Minister of EEA and EU Affairs Elisabeth Vik Aspaker's speech at the 'European Week of Regions and Cities' in Brussels on 11 October 2016.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Norway House. It also a pleasure to open a session focused on skills and regional policy. Your partnership really focuses on providing solutions to a shared challenge.

A number of Norwegian and European regions is having problems matching the current and future need of the labour marked for the skills that yields innovation and growth. This is a challenge made more urgent by the adverse demographic development that many regions face.

The mismatch is also an impediment to developing high-productivity industries in order to secure continued growth. It's a clog in the wheels for making the necessary structural adjustments in order to create more knowledge-based industries.

Skills are furthermore the fuel that enables people to start their own businesses and develop their own ideas. Moreover, the changes in the required skill sets are taking place with a pace and unpredictability we have not seen before.

Today we will hear a number of innovative approaches to addressing these problems. This will be a source for learning. As an introduction I will elaborate a bit on how my government go about making the necessary adjustments:

First, we have to invest in the education system. That is why our government is prioritizing to strengthen the entire learning chain, from kindergartens and schools to higher education and research. Ensuring high quality in kindergartens, schools and higher education is the best way to prevent dropout, prolonged unemployment, economic problems and societal exclusion.

Secondly, we also have to make better use of people's skills and their skills potential. Graduates and newly qualified candidates constitute only about 3 percent of the workforce at any given time. Therefore, we cannot only focus on our kindergartens, schools and universities. We also have to develop the skills of the vast majority that are already members of the workforce.

We have nearly 600 000 adults without upper secondary education. At the same time, we know that the need for unskilled labour is decreasing. The competition for opportunities increases - a newspaper just last week noted that a chain of grocery stores had 1 300 job vacancies last year – 65 000 people applied.

Three out of 10 pupils do not finish upper secondary education within a 5-year period. Some of them will finish later and some of them will find steady work, but too many of them will be found in all the wrong statistics. Unemployed, on welfare and overrepresented in the crime statistics.

About 400 000 people, around 12 percent of the adult population, have inadequate basic skills in reading and numeracy. Many of them have a job, but when companies restructure and cut back, they are the most likely to be made redundant.

I am sure you all recognize these challenges. We know that our competitiveness in the future will depend more upon the skills of our people, than upon our natural resources.Our aim is therefore to create a comprehensive and coherent skills policy. Simply put – we want to make sure that more people find employment and that they remain employed. Some measures are in place, others are being developed.

Thirdly, no region or country will find the solutions in splendid isolation. They will be developed bottom-up from local and regional level and through international co-operation

Let me, make some further reflections on the pivotal role of the regions in fomenting the skills of the future. The needs of the regions demand that you play an active role. Regions and communities need for instance to attract growth industries and create job. This in itself demands a fresh approach to public education. It is my clear impression that the regions recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness—the engine, not simply an input, of the economy.

Furthermore, we see that the regions are able to come up with new and innovative solutions to skills challenges. Here today we will hear some very good examples. We also see regions making innovative use of EU-programs like EU+, revitalizing secondary educations. For instance, in Mid-Norway, going abroad has become part of crafts programmes. Making both these educations and their candidates more attractive.

While many of the regions here today are not at all remote, I would like to add a few words on remoteness. No society or societal sector in the global world can afford to concentrate its educational and development resources solely in metropolitan areas. Yet, decentralization of educational resources and development ranks exceptionally high on the list of major expenditures of any nation aspiring to greater sustainability and vitality. Both public and private systems have responded throughout this century to deliver education, jobs skills, and general training to remote areas - both in-place and through regional centers coordinating with outlying communities. My government's aim is to balance quality, accessibility and relevance.

We will hear several examples today co-operation today. In order to succeed, we need to mobilize a wide range of key stakeholders. We need ministries with their sectoral responsibilities, local and regional authorities, unions and employers' associations to work together. We believe that we are dependent on a strategic partnership of equal ownership between all key stakeholders.

On an international level, The OECD undertook a review of the Norwegian skills system, and the review highlighted the need for a National Skills Strategy. We knew that we had challenges, but the OECD helped us to see the challenges in relation to one another. And this is part of the basis for our forthcoming National Skills Strategy.

EU is another cornerstone in our education policy. Participation in Erasmus+ is an integrated part of national and regional education policy. The open coordination method in Education and training 2020 (ET 2020) has provided input to our national policy formulation. Finally, the New Skills Agenda provides us with new tools and insights. This is truly an area where EU-policy is domestic policy.

We reciprocate through the EEA and Norway-grants. A part of the funding for the period 2014-2021 will go to programme area 3 "Education, Scholarships, Apprenticeships and Youth Entrepreneurship". The objective is to enhance human capital and the knowledge base in the beneficiary countries. The areas of support include institutional cooperation at all levels of education, funding traineeships, apprenticeships and work placements and supporting youth entrepreneurship and professional development of teachers.

Let these be my closing words, and I am looking forward to a rich session of challenges – and hopefully good solutions.