Tackling youth unemployment and the skills gap

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Young people find it more and more difficult to get a decent and stable job, despite being one of the best-educated generations ever. [luxorphoto/Shutterstock]

EU and business leaders are very keen to address the high levels of youth unemployment and the emerging skills gap across Europe by offering young people opportunities to play an active role in the European economy, writes Stefan Crets.

Stefan Crets is the executive director of CSR Europe, the business network for corporate social responsibility. This opinion piece is published ahead of the First European Business-Education Summit taking place in Brussels on November 23, as part of the 2nd Vocational Skills Week.

Nowadays, young people find it more and more difficult to get a decent and stable job, despite being one of the best-educated generations ever. Youth is still suffering the effects of the economic crisis.

The challenges are many and they vary from region to region and from person to person. Unemployment and growing inequality create a feeling of indignation and a severe sense of injustice.

In addition to the consequences of the crisis, business has changed dramatically over the past decade. As a result, labour skills and requirements have also changed.

There are jobs today that didn’t exist ten years ago such as social media manager, data scientist, Uber driver or app developer. In the next five years, there will be new roles with new requirements that don’t exist today.

Improving the value of today’s education system and helping the preparation of students for life after studies means also adopting a more practical and applied approach and a closer co-operation between business and education.

Launched in 2015, the European Pact for Youth started as a mutual engagement of business, education, youth and EU institutions to create a culture of business-education partnerships and support youth employability and inclusion.

In the last two-years, the Pact has worked to improve opportunities for young people across Europe. Companies and stakeholders in various European countries and regions have agreed on National Actions Plans.

These plans set local priorities for youth’s skills and to facilitate their transition towards real jobs. During the two years, the partners created over 23.000 business-education partnerships and provided around 160.000 new opportunities for young people.

Building upon the Pact, business and civil society leaders have developed three policy proposals to make business-education partnerships the new norm. In this sense, a joint appeal will be presented on the occasion of the First European Business-Education Summit to European leaders to accelerate the pace of reforms to make business-education partnerships the new norm.

Through these three proposals, the leaders of the Pact provide a strategic vision on how European institutions and governments can act as game changers to :

  1. make vocational education and training/apprenticeships an equal choice for youth;
  2. make business-education partnerships the new normal in Europe;
  3. mainstream entrepreneurship education in learning.

The proposals are addressed to the European Commission, the Parliament and the Council as well a the European Heads of State, governments and ministers of Labour, Economy, Education and Youth, and businesses.

They contribute to EU and national policies on skills for competitiveness and employment, which aim to have a long-standing and significant impact on youth. They are accompanied by National Action Plans that are outlined by local actors on the ground.

They provide concrete solutions that respect subsidiarity with member states and public bodies in co-operation with other actors working on the ground, target high ambition and are easy to engage in.

For a number of generations, education has successfully supported economic development, growth and social change. Today, our economies face a large amplitude of change and disruption. These challenges bring significant opportunities for EU institutions and the Member States to find new ways to deliver more value to students and human resources.

By recognising how important corporate social responsibility is to European integration and capitalising on business-education collaborations, we can shape a new way of working and learning, fight youth unemployment and boost growth.