Leif Pagrotsky speaks to the importance of building and maintaining skills in a labor force.
Question: What is education’s role in a weak economy?
Pagrotsky: I believe that when the capacity is underutilized in the country in times of recession, for instance, when labor is laid off, when companies are not working at full speed. That is the time not to waste labor, not to waste time of individuals concerned, but to invest in knowledge to be used when the economy recovers again, because knowledge is, I believe, the currency of globalization. Knowledge is something that you cannot take away from people, something that can never be bad. You can educate yourself, and at worst, you will never use it. But, in general, it means a positive impact for the individual, for his salary, for his possibility to get a job, but also to productivity in the economy, so we should use all opportunities we have to use the idleness of labor to add to their skills. And that can mean not only a three-week course on a new machine or a new computer program, that can be that a laid off older worker at Volvo can go to a university to add to his education so that he can become a teacher, for instance. Remember, Volvo hasn’t hired anybody who wasn’t eligible for a college, for entry into college in the past 10 years, so everybody was now laid off has the papers necessary to enter university. Many of them don’t want to, but if some of them do, we should support them. We should give them the financial resources and free education, so that when the economy recovers again, the population has a higher level of education. Remember, every year there is one [cohort] of young people entering the labor force and one [cohort] of labor leaving the labor force that is a 2% of the labor force. That is not enough. Economy is changing so fast. Technology is changing so fast. The demands for languages, computer skills increase so fast. So, the labor force must be upgraded and modernized much faster than 2% a year. That means that also people in active ages must have the opportunity to receive education. And I also believe that people with a job, if they leave the job to add to their education because they like it and they leave a vacancy behind, that should be actively supported, not because we should be kind to that individual, not as a policy to be friendly to individuals, but as a systematic policy to raise the level of skills in the labor force as such. That is an extremely important element in the policy for long-term growth.