Skills Summit 2016

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at Skills Summit in Bergen 29 June 2016.

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Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this Skills Summit on behalf of the Norwegian Government and the OECD. And it is a special pleasure to welcome you to my own home town.  

Bergen is a city built on trade and international exchange. The Bryggen wharf, a World Heritage Site just down the road from here, is testimony to its vibrant history.

Today, Bergen is an international centre for shipping, aquaculture, offshore petroleum and subsea technology. It is a city influenced by changes and challenges from abroad, a city that is used to adapting and improving.

Bergen has been able to thrive precisely because it has made the most of the skills of its people. Norway and the other OECD countries could do well to follow this example and become better at exploiting their human capital.

Oil and gas will continue to be very important to the Norwegian economy for many years to come. But, in order to secure continued growth, we also need to develop other high-productivity industries.

We need more people to start businesses and turn ideas into new products and services. In addition, we all need to do our part to bring about a green transition in the face of climate change.

As it says in the OECD Skills Strategy report: In the future, Norway’s competitiveness will depend more upon the skills of its people, than upon the abundance of its natural resources.

The Government strongly believes that we are building the foundation for skills and lifelong learning in our schools and our education system. But we also need to do more to develop the skills of the vast majority of people who are already in work or who have the potential to work.

Norway has a highly skilled labour force and the number of low-skilled jobs is decreasing. We must make sure that those who are fleeing to our country from war and persecution in their own countries are given the opportunity to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to become part of the workforce. This is also vital for integration and for our economic development.

All OECD member states have different histories and cultures. But we share many of the same structural challenges and we all need to adapt. Changes in society, technology, work structures and a large influx of immigrants are creating new challenges for all of us. The rapid and unpredictable pace of change makes it difficult to forecast what skills will be needed in the future.

What we do know is that the education and skills that were good enough to enable us to compete yesterday will not be good enough tomorrow. We have to give people the opportunity to develop their education and skills throughout their lives. Only then will we be able to compete internationally.

What can we do to help Benjamin, for example, a 20-year-old who dropped out of a vocational training programme? How can we help him complete his education and gain his certificate of apprenticeship?

And how can we help Aqilah from Syria, who used to be a nurse back home? She is now facing the long and complicated process of getting her education and skills recognised. How can we make the transition to her new life easier and less bureaucratic?

And how can we help Camilla, a piping engineer, who is struggling to find work after losing her job at an oil company here in Bergen? She has lots of skills, but not the ones the market is currently looking for.

We are here to identify key success factors for developing skills strategies that can drive productivity, innovation and inclusion. This is no easy task. However, our most important task is to develop better policies that can help people to find work or to stay in work.

I am sure we can all agree that this is important. It is also difficult, partly because it requires a whole-of-government approach. The state system often finds it hard enough to cooperate within the system, let alone across different sectors. We need to find solutions to this problem.

In order to succeed, we have to mobilise a wide range of key stakeholders. We need to work across ministries with different sectoral responsibilities and across local and regional authorities.

The Government is now well into the process of drawing up a comprehensive and coherent national skills strategy. But there are limits to what governments can accomplish by themselves. That is why we are inviting representatives of labour unions and employers to play a key role in both developing the strategy and putting it into practice.  We want them to think of the strategy as theirs, not only as a government initiative.

This Skills Summit brings together ministers with responsibility for a wide range of portfolios, including education, employment, economic development, regional policy and government coordination. Together with the expertise from the OECD, it gives us an exciting opportunity both to discuss common challenges and to work together to identify how we can deliver better skills outcomes for our countries and our citizens.

Getting more people into employment is vital – both for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole. The importance of work – to all of us – cannot be overstated. We all need to feel valued and that we have something to contribute. Having a job affects your sense of self-worth and your physical and psychological well-being. It gives you money, a salary that enables you to take care of yourself and your family. An effective skills policy could make a huge difference to people’s lives. We have to find good ways of helping people who are struggling to find their place in education or in the workforce.

I wish you every success with your important work here in Bergen and look forward to seeing the results.  We need to make the best possible use of all our human capital if we are to solve today’s challenges and those of the future. And I believe a comprehensive and coherent skills policy can make a real difference to us all.

Thank you.