Private sector jumps in to fill youth skills gap

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Youth unemployment remains a lingering issue in Europe. While the public sector has a central role to play in supporting young people in the transition from education to work, private companies can also contribute to closing the skills gap.

The lack of skilled workers is one of the biggest challenges faced by companies seeking to recruit, according to the 2019 annual economic survey by Eurochambres, which represents  dozens of chambers of commerce and industry across Europe.

At least 80 million workers in Europe do not have the qualifications sought by employers, the survey found.

“There are increasing signals that Europe is heading toward a skill-shortage crisis which may seriously impair its competitiveness and create a bottleneck for further growth,” Eurochambres warns.

Young people who lack basic literacy, numeracy or digital skills are struggling to make the transition from school to the workplace. And while all attention focuses on public institutions to address the issue, the private sector also has a role to play.

Filling the skills gap 

In late March, twenty young Bulgarians gathered in Vratsa for a two-day ‘green entrepreneurship’ workshop focused on renewable energy, eco-tourism and sustainable products.

The workshop, organised by Junior Achievement (JA) Bulgaria, a non-profit organisation, was aimed at creating synergies with the private sector.

Nikola Gazdov is CEO of Renergy, a company focused on renewable energy. His mission was to motivate youngsters in pursuing a career in the sector.

“The self-interest of the private sector, when multiplied by the number of companies who have this concern, is overlapped with the general public interest,” Gazdov told EURACTIV.

For Gazdov, businesses cannot afford to wait for the public education system to “create the best employee we can imagine”. So his company decided to organise a free online seminar to introduce youngsters to renewable energies and solar engineering.

“We hope this will raise the interest of people in this subject and be a good influence on young people,” Gazdov said.

At EU level, the objective is to reduce the number of people who are neither in employment, education or training – the so-called NEETs.

In 2018, the NEET youth rate in Bulgaria was 20.9%, one of the highest in the EU after Italy (28.9%) and Greece (26.8%). Lack of education, skills, motivation and opportunities appear on top of difficulties encountered by these young people.

However, for Nikola Gazdov, there is something else: the lack of belief. “Young people do not believe they can do it on their own. They have to think that people with new ideas can always change the context where they are inserted,” he explained, saying his workshops are “open to everybody”.

'NEETs': A youth group at high risk of poverty and exclusion

Education and skills gaps are not only a challenge for businesses seeking to recruit, they also make poverty and social exclusion more likely among young people who are excluded from labour and education at the same time. 

A way into the labour market

A typical obstacle often encountered by young NEETs is to land their first job experience. It is with this in mind that Identrics, an artificial intelligence start-up, will start receiving young interns as of this summer.

The CTO of the company, Deyan Peychev, underlined the importance of welcoming youngsters of all backgrounds. While he acknowledged this generation is probably the best-educated Bulgaria has had in decades, he says youngsters still often lack entrepreneurial training.

“The private sector has an important role in this, it is not only the public sector. We need to communicate with students, to organise their way of thinking. They should be more business oriented,” he argues.

The company is cooperating with the computer science departments of the universities of Sofia and Burgas to organise courses focused over specific business needs. “If the private sector works together with universities and schools, the skills gap will decrease,” he believes.

Crisis after crisis

The 2008 financial and economic crisis hit young people particularly hard, with several countries seeing their youth unemployment rates rising above 40%. But during the past few years, there has been a slow recovery. 

At EU level, a European Youth Guarantee scheme was introduced to support young people without a job, training or education. Since its implementation six years ago, youth unemployment levels in the Union have decreased from a peak of 24% in 2013 to 14% in 2019. 

The percentage of youth unemployment was expected to keep decreasing this year. However, due to the unexpected economical earthquake caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new challenge is now looming on the horizon.

The seismic shock of pandemic is already affecting all sectors of the economy, but like in in 2008, young people – and especially the NEETs – are expected to bear the brunt.

According to the International Labour Organisation, more than 190 million people around the globe are unemployed, out of which 70 million are young people. Supported by the private or public sector, an entire generation is waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate that it can be useful to the world.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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