Nordic regions must stay on their toes to develop local skills

More and more Nordic municipalities are facing serious demographic challenges, such as rapid urbanisation, ageing population, and youth outmigration and population decline in rural areas. This is especially the case in sparsely populated remote areas, which often struggle to create employment opportunities and ensure public social services. For these communities, developing the right skills can be the difference between stagnation and prosperity. Nordregio is currently examining strategic skills development in Nordic regions, which is also the key theme at Nordregio Forum 2019 – Skills for resilient regions.

In-depth analysis of Nordic skills development

A new Nordregio discussion paper provides an overview of skills development as a tool to build more innovative and resilient regions, capable of responding timely to these challenges. According to Nordregio Director Kjell Nilsson, there are good reasons to take the issue seriously.

“The Nordic Demographic Vulnerability Index shows that in less than ten years, the number of Nordic municipalities facing serious demographic challenges has increased by more than 40 per cent.”

The paper is the first part of a larger analysis to be carried out this autumn on how Nordic regions work with skills development. Anna Lundgren, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio, leads the project, called Skills Policies – Building Capacities for Innovative and Resilient Regions.

“We’ve identified key topics that must be addressed to create robust skills development strategies,” Lundgren says about the paper. “It’s important to establish an overview of the demographic and socio-economic factors that influence skills and skills development in each region, to identify the various institutions and people involved in skills development, and to map the skills governance, meaning the ways in which these different actors work together to achieve their common goals.”

Four key tasks for the regions

Providing the appropriate skills and competences for the local labour market, now and in the future, remains a vital part of ensuring regional competitiveness. To do so, the regions need to attend to four tasks that are highlighted in the paper.

“The first is to assess the current skills supply and anticipate the future needs of the labour market, while the second, skills development, addresses the policies and institutions required to fulfil these future needs,” Lundgren explains. “Thirdly, the regions need to react to any mismatch between the regional skills supply and demand, together with the regional actors and institutions. The fourth task identified in the paper is skills governance, which concerns the need to define the different roles and responsibilities and to address the challenges in joint processes.”

Nordregio is now inviting all those working with skills in regional development to provide their feedback on the discussion paper. The input will be used in the more detailed analysis of six selected regional case studies: the Capital Region of Denmark, North Karelia in Finland, Greenland, North East Iceland, Hedmark and Oppland in Norway, and the Swedish region of Värmland.

Nordregio Forum 2019 – Skills for resilient regions

Preparing for sudden socio-economic change and employment shocks is prominent in Nordregio’s regional development work, but the institution is also highly committed to providing input into strategies to respond to the slow and steady decrease in population in remote and rural communities.

The value of skills development in this context is the main theme of Nordregio Forum 2019 – Skills for resilient regions. The preliminary results from the analysis will be presented at the Forum, which takes place in Reykjavik on 27-28 November 2019.

“Iceland is at the same time the most urbanised and the most sparsely populated country in Europe and has its fair share of regional challenges,” says Kjell Nilsson. “However, the country has also had a great deal of success in using local skills and knowledge to create new opportunities, notably in tourism and by creating new products from marine resources. We look forward to presenting these cases at the event.”

During the event, attendees will also get insight into the regional development strategies in some of the most innovative and resilient municipalities in the Nordic Region. These include Ii in Finland, which in the last decade has become energy-independent, producing more renewable energy than it consumes, Skellefteå in Sweden, where Europe’s largest battery factory is currently being built, supporting the electrification of transport and other industries, and Vardø in Norway, which has chosen to focus on improving its residents’ quality of life to react to demographic challenges. Moreover, smart specialisation will be a major feature of the programme.

“Smart specialisation is about identifying the local strengths and opportunities and using them to build resilient and innovative regions,” Nilsson says about the concept, which was initially created by the EU to promote innovation and growth in the regions of Europe. “Skills development and smart specialisation are absolute key issues when it comes to the future of our regions.”

Skills must match local needs

Nilsson points to decentralisation of education as an effective way to support regional growth and development. The universities in the Nordic Region, notably in Sweden, Finland and Norway, have become increasingly decentralised, and the effects on regional development are clear to see, he says.

“Whether you look at the demographic development or employment, towns and regions with access to a college or a university are developing more strongly than others,” he says. “However, it’s important for the regions to focus not only on academic education, but also vocational education and training programmes that are adapted to the local economy and the specific needs of the local labour market.”

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