OECD countries have long emphasised the development of skilled people through education and training, in recognition of the positive link between human capital and economic growth and productivity. But as countries seek new sources of growth to underpin a strong and sustainable future, they increasingly seek to know more about the types of skills that support innovation and the best ways to develop them. Innovation holds the key to ongoing improvements in living standards, as well as to solving some of the pressing social challenges facing OECD and non-OECD economies alike. Skilled people play a crucial role in innovation through the new knowledge they generate, the way they adopt and adapt existing ideas, and their ability to learn new competencies and adapt to a changing environment.
Innovation depends on people who are able to generate and apply knowledge and ideas in the workplace and in society at large. OECD countries have long recognised the need to develop skilled people through education and training. But as they strive to find new sources of growth to underpin a strong and sustainable future, they increasingly try to understand the types of skills needed for innovation and the best ways to build them.
Skills and innovation – Links, questions and challenges
Countries wish to better understand which skills are required for innovative activity. Human capital contributes to innovation in a number of ways, but linking particular skills to innovation raises methodological challenges. This chapter aims to increase understanding of the desired skills base for innovation and its underlying research activities and of the policies that would enhance the development of these skills. It also points out areas in which further analysis would be useful. To begin, this chapter sets the scene by outlining the links between human capital and innovation. It then discusses some of the policy questions of concern to OECD countries, highlighting some of the measurement difficulties that create uncertainties for determining policy. A final section describes the book’s approach.
What are the skills needed for innovation?
The literature indicates that a large number of skills are required for innovation, ranging from technical skills to "soft" skills and the ability to learn. Different individuals, firms and industries may draw on different skill mixes at different times; nevertheless, many skills appear relevant across the innovation spectrum. Human capital is an essential input to innovation, but what are the skills and attributes that human capital must possess? This chapter provides some insights on skills for innovation drawn from the literature and on the mix of these skills which economies may require. It then briefly discusses emerging themes in skill requirements. A final section summarises the chapter.
What the data and evidence say about skills and innovation
Identifying skills for innovation and their contribution to innovation performance is a challenge. The data suggest that educational attainment has improved and that skilled people, as measured by their occupation, have increased, although with important differences across industries. Relationships between skill and innovation indicators are complex and more work is needed, particularly on the basis of firm-level data, to understand the use of different skill groups in innovation activity. This chapter complements the discussion in the previous chapter by examining data and evidence on countries’ stocks and flows of skills, as measured by various indicators of human capital, and on the links between skills and innovation.
Developing and using skills for innovation – Policy issues
Given the wide variety of skills required for innovation, and the already robust educational attainment in most OECD countries, the policy focus for skills for innovation should be on creating an environment that enables individuals to choose and acquire appropriate skills and supports the optimal use of these skills at work. This chapter explores the issues of skill supply, education, workplace training and work organisation. It concludes by a brief discussion of policy coherence, followed by a summary.
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