• Technology is fundamentally altering the employment relationship.
  • The Reskilling Revolution aims to provide skills to 1 billion workers within the next five years.
  • We need strong public-private partnerships to restore the social contract and prepare workers for the future.

Rapid changes in the world are putting pressure on already challenged labour markets in many countries. Societies are experiencing fundamental changes, driven not only by technological advances, but also by demographic and climate change.

The platform economy and the development of new or non-standard forms of work change the very concept of work and the employment relationship. These changes risk exacerbating job polarization, widening wage inequality and poverty.

When the weather forecast says a hurricane is coming, we act. We take precautions for our own homes. We help our neighbours and we join our efforts in local communities. We take joint responsibility because we are aware of the dire consequences if we do not act.

I wish the forecast to invest in skills could be taken as seriously – that more people, companies and societies would start to invest in skills, reskilling and lifelong learning. If we don’t, it will not only hamper businesses and the foundation for our economies. It could undermine our entire societal contract.

Digital transformation is causing a shift in work patterns
Digital transformation is causing a shift in work patterns
Image: World Economic Forum

Safeguarding the social contract

The social contract says if you work and contribute, you will have access to quality education, decent pay, a strong social safety net and decent retirement. And the contract promises your kids will have the same opportunities as yourself, or better.

This contract has for some years – not least since the financial crisis in 2008 – been under pressure. And this has consequences.

If we leave people to themselves and say “you’re on your own,” we open the door to populism and social unrest.

And if we do not facilitate the opportunity to learn new skills, we will leave people behind without the necessary competences to the detriment of workers as well as businesses.

The World Economic Forum’s focus on a Reskilling Revolution is timely. If we want to construct a future where we take advantage of the opportunities and create fairer and more inclusive labour markets, we need to act now. And we need strong partnerships.

The ambition is to provide skills to 1 billion people in the current and future workforce in the next five years. This is an ambitious goal that would have important impact for workers across the globe.

People cannot just be replaced by machines or artificial intelligence. But automation and artificial intelligence can have both a positive and negative impact on jobs. They can create new opportunities, new jobs and remove hard labour and poor working conditions if we approach it in the right way. If not, these technologies might remove jobs and create challenges for both skilled and unskilled workers. That's one of the reasons why we need upskilling and reskilling.

The Danish experience

My vision as a minister is to shape a society where we invest in people – where we sign a social contract ensuring fair and transparent rules for all. In implementing such a contract, we can minimize job polarization, fight inequality and empower the individual to meet the demand of the future.

This is not in contradiction to developing a business-friendly environment or to ensuring companies have access to the qualified workforce they need. On the contrary.

Denmark has been rated among the top 10 in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Competitiveness Report.

And according to the OECD, Denmark is one of the countries where the most people participate in education: adult education and continuing training, on-the-job competence development and liberal adult education activities, even in leisure time. A considerable proportion of overall learning and competence development takes place in connection with the job.

We invest more than $500 million a year in education, upskilling and training, for a workforce of around 2.8 million people. And training participants are entitled to a state-financed allowance corresponding to the level of the maximum unemployment benefit rate.

We also work closely together with trade unions and employers' organizations in all aspects of the labour market. They play a crucial role when it comes to reskilling.

The focus on public-private collaboration is therefore a key element in ensuring sustainable change.

We, of course, also see challenges.

One of the main obstacles is motivating those people already employed in a job to continue lifelong learning. In Denmark, more than one in three workers do not see the need to take part in continuing education, while only one in three firms use vocational training to develop the skills of employees.

We work on this challenge in two ways. First, by making short and practical courses. Second, an unemployed person with no or little education can transition to become a skilled worker by enrolling in an education program as an adult apprentice in a business.

However, firms also have to take on their share of the responsibility. It's key the firms also bring forward clear plans and policies for upskilling workers.

In short, no one can solve the reskilling challenge alone. We all need to take responsibility. This week, as the world’s top leaders gather at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, we have a unique opportunity to join efforts and push for a reskilling revolution – and restore faith in the social contract.

Let’s take the skills forecast seriously. I encourage you all to join the Reskilling Revolution.