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Strategies for life-long learning and the digital shift

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the Lifelong Learning Summit in Lillehammer, 12 February 2019.

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Thank you so much for the invitation. And for the chance to come back to Lillehammer.

You have already had a day of talks and conversations.

Hopefully, some of you have had the chance to walk the streets of the city.

If you have, you will have noticed two things.

First – the hills are steep.

However, if you have managed to climb them, you will notice that the city centre consists of numerous beautiful wooden houses, all of them overlooking Norway's largest lake. Mjøsa.

Once, the lake and the rivers surrounding it created jobs and industry in this valley.

Making this a natural place to establish a merchant city.

Creating a growing town with opportunities for skilled workers.

Some years back – and I am talking before the Olympics – the riverbanks would be full of activity.

Not any more. Except for the summer, when people go for a swim.

All the floating timber have gone. 

Somewhere along the way of history, the mills closed. 

Workers had to move or learn something else to do.

Get new skills.

It is true here, what is true everywhere.

Nobody returns to the same river twice.

 

Now, I do not intend to offend anyone.

Nevertheless, I think you will agree that most of us in this room will need to learn new skills in the years to come.

At least, we will all need fresh professional input.

Which is a good thing.

The more adaptable and flexible we are in learning new things, the more likely we will be able to deal with the challenges life throws our way.

Not that the things we know now are wrong.

Or outdated.

Not at all.

Some of you have already demonstrated – and will continue to demonstrate through the rest of the summit – that in fact your knowledge and your input are valuable.

That the things you know, and the skills you have, will improve the world around you.

As innovators, scholars or job creators.

That you are indeed agents of continuous betterment.

However, that is also the paradox of knowledge.

The paradox of invention.

The more we know, and the more we put our knowledge to use.

The more – and the faster – things will change.

This is evident in every society. And has been so through all of human history.

The printing press, Spinning Jenny, The transistor.

However, current changes are taking place with a pace and unpredictability we have not seen before. 

This makes it difficult to anticipate what kind of skills people will need in the future.

To be able to make the necessary adjustments we need to do two things:

First, we have to invest in the education system.

Lifelong learning starts at a young age.

That is why it is a top priority for us to strengthen the entire learning chain – from kindergartens and schools to higher education and research.

Ensuring high quality from the get-go is the best way to prevent young people dropping out, prolonged unemployment, economic problems and societal exclusion.

Second, we also have to make better use of people's skills and their potential.

Graduates and newly qualified candidates constitute only about 3 percent of the workforce at any given time. 

We have to stop thinking about education the same way we think about learning to ride a bike.

That we only have to do it once.

If we are to sustain a healthy economy.

If we are to preserve a democracy where people feel needed and included.

We have to find better ways to develop the skills of the vast majority that are already members of the workforce.

The principle of universal access to higher education has a strong position in Norway.

It is not seen as a privilege, but as a right. And rightfully so.

We need to start thinking about lifelong learning the same way.

An adult should have the opportunity to seek new skills and upgrade her education throughout her career.

I think we are better equipped for that in Norway than in many other countries.

However, statistics show that less people seek continuing education today than ten years ago.

That is not sustainable.

And it tells me that we need to make lifelong learning easier and more accessible for all.

Therefore, we are in the process of designing a skills reform for lifelong learning.

We will present a white paper to Parliament in 2020, but we have already introduced new measures to promote lifelong learning.

The skills reform will focus on establishing a flexible system for skills and create more opportunities for people to combine work and training.

We need flexible systems in order to meet challenges created by digitalisation and the transition to a low-emission economy.

Most people will need to combine their regular jobs with learning activities.

The skills reform will stimulate the development of flexible modules that can serve as building blocks to build new skills sets.

People often overestimate what they can accomplish within a year.

But they underestimate what they can do in four years.

The same is true for most politicians.

We hear a lot of talk about outdated jobs.

That is the nature of development.

I understand people feeling nervous in the face of the future.

Thinking they will be made redundant. Unable to keep up the pace.

They look a year down the line, and consider the task of changing course too great.

We have to acknowledge that some jobs will get outdated.

But we can not accept that people get outdated.

A writer from this very city, Nobel laureate Sigird Unset, once wrote:

Everything changes, but the human heart. How true !

People need to feel needed.

That their skills, and their knowledge is useful to their surroundings

We have to make sure that workers get the skills they need to perform the jobs of the future.

Continuing education makes you employable in a more mobile and flexible labour market.

It makes it easier to gain and maintain stable employment. And to cope with uncertainty and change. 

Our most important way of doing this, is to make continuing education profitable.

Not only for the worker herself.

But also for the employer and for society as a whole.

 

Another way to put it, is that we need to make sure that our weaker links are as strong as possible.

Why did the industrial revolution begin in England?

Why not France or Germany?

Why not down by the river here in Lillehammer

One theory is that Britain was lucky enough to have more geniuses than anyone else.

Like James Watt, who invented the steam engine.

But there’s an economist named Joel Mokyr who makes another argument.

England’s advantage was that it had way more craftsmen than anyone else, way more skilled engineers.

Those were the people who were able to take those ingenious inventions and perfect them. Make them useful.

Mokyr is saying that the industrial revolution was a weak link phenomenon.

Not dependent on one or two Great Minds alone.

But on the combined force of a skilled population. 

 

Norway is ready to seize the opportunities this high-tech revolution brings.

The factors that made the oil adventure possible, now give us an excellent starting point for exploring new opportunities and creating new jobs based on new technology.

We have established close cooperation between the labour unions, the private sector and the Government.

And we are making major investments in research and development.

 

At the same time, the need for upgraded skills and more relevant competence is unmistakeable.

Around one in four Norwegian companies report that their skills needs are not being met. More than forty per cent of these companies say they have lost customers or market shares because of lacking skills.

Almost as many have delayed or put a cap on expansion, while one in five have reduced their business due to the same challenge.

Two thirds of the private companies say they want to increase digital skills among their employees.

And the employees themselves.

More than half of them say they need to improve their digital skills.

Nearly one in five adults have not completed upper secondary education.

At the same time, we know that the need for unskilled labour is decreasing.

The competition for opportunities increases. I read a newspaper that noted that a chain of grocery stores had 1 300 job vacancies last year.  

65 000 people applied.

Around 12 percent of the adult population, have inadequate basic skills in literacy.

Many of them have a job, but when companies restructure and cut back, they are the most likely to be made redundant.

Simply put – we need to make sure that more people find employment and that they remain employed.

We believe that we are dependent on a strategic partnership between all key stakeholders.

Without this partnership, I do not think we can succeed. We are using what we call the Nordic model, the tripartite arrangement where representatives of employees and employers play key roles together with the Government, as we are now working on developing and operationalizing our Skills reform. 

We need their contributions to offer both training at the workplace and further education.

We want the partners to think of the skills reform as theirs, not only as the Government's.

They play an active part during the process – from start to finish.

 

The digital shift is a large part of it.

We have already started funding the development of short, flexible courses for more advanced digital skills.

The courses will focus on topics such as cyber security, artificial intelligence and the internet of things. And people should be able to combine them with full-time work – and family life.

 

We do not digitalise to digitalise. Our ambition is to use the technology to make Norway even better.

We will not compromise on the values that underpin our society: inclusion, diversity, democracy and equal opportunities.

If we are to succeed with that ambition, we are completely dependent on our schools and universities.

We also need to remember that our competitiveness in the future will depend upon the skills of our people.

The digital shift is not a shift away from people. 

Quite recently, I read about an algorithm that big companies use when they are looking for new top executives.

By comparing the candidates with thousands of top executives worldwide, the algorithm can quickly provide an answer to who has the best chance of success.

There is just one small problem.

Because women are under-represented among CEOs, the algorithm regards females as less qualified for such jobs than men.

As prime minister of a majority government where the four party leaders are women, I do not have to explain to you why the algorithm is biased, and wrong.

 

A lot have changed from the days of the river. 

Norway have moved from poverty to prosperity.

Of course, our natural resources played a great part of that.

They still do.

Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the power of reform. Not only people, also societies have to change. To better themselves.

Norway would not have been a rich, peaceful country had it not been for gender equality.

Among the most important factors in Norway’s economic development are affordable childcare and generous parental leave schemes.

These measures have made it possible for both mothers and fathers to work and combine this with family life

Of course, these schemes are costly – but they are also among the most profitable investments available for society as a whole.

I think about lifelong learning along the same lines.

It is an investment in individuals. It is an investment in an inclusive society, and it is an investment in a sustainable future.

All of us live with unpredictably. Some more than others, for instance prime ministers. We have to make sure as many as possible are able to meet that unpredictability.

And the best way to control the future is to create it.

Thank you and best of luck with your important work.

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