“Global value chains (GVCs)” have immensely increased the potential for individuals and nations to benefit from globalisation. Workers in different parts of the world can now contribute to the production of a single product, giving even small companies and countries unprecedented opportunities to reach global markets and create new jobs, and generating new gains in productivity that benefit consumers. But they can also leave people behind. While many jobs depend on GVCs, GVCs have meant that some workers have lost their jobs and many of them have not seen their income growing over the past decade.

It is thus important to recognise that at the heart of global value chains are people: from the people who conceive a new product to the consumers who use it, and in between the people who design, produce, assemble and transport the article and its various parts. And the extent to which people can plug into global value chains greatly depends on their skills. This is the topic of this year’s edition of the Skills Outlook.

Workers need to have strong literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, skills in the use of technologies, social and emotional skills, and the capacity and motivation to learn. When workers have the mix of skills that is well aligned with the needs of the most technologically advanced industries, and when qualifications reliably reflect what workers can do, countries can develop a comparative advantage by specialising in these industries. Having the right skills can also help workers face the potential negative impacts of global value chains: having communication and decision-making skills make workers less vulnerable to the risk of offshoring.

However, many adults lack those skills. The Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), has revealed that about one in four adults has low skills in either literacy or numeracy. As both production and education are no longer bound by national borders, countries can co-operate on designing education and training programmes that improve the skills of workers and find ways to recognise relevant skills through shared definitions of workers’ qualifications.

Above all, governments need to look at the full range of their structural policies to address the challenges of globalisation. This publication focuses on the specific role of skills and skills policies to make the most of global value chains, but these policies need to be aligned with other policies, including those covering trade, innovation, investment, and industry. In other words, a whole-of-government approach is needed. The OECD stands ready to work with governments to face the challenges and reap the benefits of globalisation.


Andreas Schleicher

Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General


Andrew Wyckoff

Director for Science, Technology and Innovation