Exclusive: Denmark’s lifelong learning vision

By GovInsider

By Troels Lund Poulsen, Danish Minister for Employment.

It is my wish that a blacksmith is motivated to become a robot builder. It is my aim that for every new robot there will be one new job. And it is my duty to make it possible.

The future of work is not decided in advance: it is up to us to decide how we want to shape the future of work - through the policies we design and implement. Digitisation and new technology bring major changes to the traditional ways of organising our societies, businesses and labour markets.

To transform our society and meet the challenges of tomorrow we must make the necessary investments in partnerships, frameworks and people. Singapore is a great source of inspiration, not only for me but also for the government and Denmark as a whole. Singapore has ambitions, drive and determination - so does Denmark.

Using tech to our advantage

Singapore and Denmark have both been successful at maximizing the benefits offered to us by technological development and globalization. We are among the richest countries in the world, and often ranked as two of the world’s frontrunners when it comes to ‘smartness’. Now, the smart move is to use that edge and enter the future with an open mind and with open arms – which also means robot arms and artificial minds.

What used to be a journey of several months on rough, open sea is now a mere 13-hour direct flight from Singapore to Copenhagen, made possible with the likes of foresight, technology and Singapore Airlines. Siri did not come to take control of our iPhones. Siri came to ease our tasks and free up hands. She might not provide the answers to all our questions, and sometimes she leads us in the wrong direction – but changes and technology takes time. I believe that a robot is a friend you have not met yet.

Yearning for lifelong learning

Earlier this year, the president of the Danish Metal Workers’ Union and I went on a tour to explore how robots and automation can contribute to growth and new jobs in Denmark. We visited several industrial companies where robots are seen as part of the recipe for successful production.

Speaking to the workers, they expressed a feeling of comfort and readiness to take in the robots. Great results can only be achieved if we all feel comfortable with the new technologies. To see the robots as our new friends like these metalworkers, we must create a yearning for lifelong learning. An ambition both Singapore and Denmark share.

The Danish government is dedicated to grasp future possibilities. Therefore, we established ‘the Disruption Council – a Partnership for Denmark’s Future’. It has members from trade unions, employer organizations, entrepreneurs, experts, Danish youth, CEOs and ministers. We discuss future skills, free trade, international partnerships, new business models, tomorrow’s technology and lifelong learning.

In Denmark, we have a very flexible labour market and a long history of successful national reforms. We leave it to the social partners to regulate pay and working conditions through collective agreements. We have created a special model that combines high flexibility when it comes to hiring and firing with robust social security: the so-called flexicurity model.
This model has very broad political and public support in Denmark, and it has been developed over many years through close cooperation between governments, trade unions, employers and businesses.

The essence of the model is to allow companies and public institutions to respond quickly to changes in the economy, while ensuring that workers who lose their jobs are taken care of. They are given access to training and new skills allowing them to return to the labor market. Most importantly, the Danes consider it to be a success.

Inviting social partners on board

Education, vocational training and lifelong learning are vital if we want to ensure enough well educated people to meet the future. Another key is to ensure optimism for the future world of work. It fuels my optimism that we in Denmark just concluded an agreement on vocational training and education. What makes this agreement particularly special is that it is a tri-partite agreement.

Denmark has a long tradition of tripartite collaboration between the government and the social partners when facing large and complex societal challenges. There are no quick-fixes. Our tripartite approach safeguard long-term responses to the benefit of employers, employees, the economy and the society as a whole.

Over the past two years, the Danish government has concluded three tripartite agreements with the social partners. The first on labour market integration of refugees. The second on sufficient and qualified labour and apprenticeships. The last and most recent on vocational training and education.

Although we have a strong vocational education sector in Denmark, not enough people are being up-skilled or trained. If we do not respond to that challenge it will lead to future pressure on our capacities and companies.

With the tri-partite agreement, we are investing in future competencies with more flexible solutions, easier access to training and a strong life-long learning perspective. The agreement contains several initiatives targeted at companies and workers’ incentives and opportunities to begin training and up-skilling.

The SkillsFuture initiative is the Singaporean counterpart. Even though our countries have followed different development paths, we have both enjoyed thriving economies.

Singapore will for two days act as a base for me to get inspired and learn. I will debate with both government representatives, private companies and university students.

I will get a feel of tomorrow’s technology by hearing about maritime innovation, and having robot massage.

Troels Lund Poulsen, Danish Minister for Employment will be in Singapore on 29th and 30th of November as a part of the Danish Prime Minister, Mr. Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s official state visit to Singapore on 30th of November.