Youth should be a mainstream priority for the EU, business expert says

Caroline Jenner, CEO of JA Europe.

Europe’s future lies in young peoples’ hands. And if the EU wants to see economic growth, leaders should better put youth and education at the core of the bloc’s policymaking, JA Europe CEO Caroline Jenner told EURACTIV in an interview. 

“Young people and their employability, their job creation potential and entrepreneurship skills have to remain a top priority across all other priorities,” Jenner said.

Education and young people “must be on the table” because “that’s where all the jobs come from,” JA Europe CEO said. 

Jenner praised the European Commission for supporting start-ups and promoting entrepreneurial education, through programs such as Horizon 2020. However, she feels there is a need to merge all policies so that they can support each other. 

At EU ministerial meetings, “the competitiveness meeting is more important than the education meeting, or they don’t talk to each other about the synergies between them,” Jenner explained. “That tells the story.”

“We have to see education appear in digital, we have to see education appear in research. And I mean, in this case, entrepreneurial education, but it has to stay alive across all of those budget lines,” JA Europe CEO insisted. 

But synergies on education should go beyond policymaking and cultivate exchanges between schools and the business community, in order to prepare young people for the world of work.

This an area where Europe has progressed notably in the past few years. “The school community is saying that they want to work with businesses,” the Jenner said. “We’re now into mainstreaming this kind of collaboration.”

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Learning by doing

JA Europe has been working to prepare the young generation for the world of work for a hundred years. Entrepreneurial education is at the core of their work and they praise the EU’s contribution in this area. 

In a fast-changing world where the skills required by the job market cannot be foreseen, entrepreneurial education provides a timeless set of abilities, according to Caroline Jenner.

“You need people who are adaptable, who can think quickly, who can adjust to all of those advances in technology and digital, and who can create value out of that,” Jenner explained. 

“Yes, you need some specialisation, people will need to know a little bit more about this or that. But the skills that are really going to drive society and economy forward is our ability to navigate through the change and not be scared of it,” she pointed out. 

For JA Europe, entrepreneurial education goes beyond teaching students how to build a company. “It means being opportunistic, it means being less risk-averse. It means being a problem solver. It means being a collaborator, a team player. It means all of those things that are relevant no matter what career choice,” Jenner explained.

“When you fill the school up with this kind of experience, you end up with teachers relating to kids differently in schools,” the CEO argued. “You learn faster and you learn a lot” through learning by doing, Jenner stressed. 

Entrepreneurial education in Europe

EU heads of states and government met for a European Council summit last week. Although they did not find a compromise on who will lead the EU in the next five years, leaders did approve a strategic agenda that sets the priorities for the EU during the next five-year term.

“We must step up investment in people’s skills and education, do more to foster entrepreneurship and innovation and increase research efforts, in particular by addressing the fragmentation of European research, development and innovation,” the strategic agenda stated. 

Caroline Jenner highlighted the difference between the EU’s newcomer countries where there is a very high penetration of entrepreneurial education, and older member states like Germany, France or Spain which struggle to introduce change. Nordic countries, for instance, understand investment in entrepreneurial education as an opportunity for the younger generation, she said. 

According to Jenner, education should be mainstreamed in all EU-funded programmes, –  from Cohesion Policy to Horizon 2020 – when EU leaders agree on the bloc’s next long-term budget in the coming months. 

“If education could be across the board and kept alive, then that would be my wish,” she said.

Europeans confident about their future jobs… but not their education

A majority of young Europeans (77%) feel well prepared for the labour market of the digital era, but they are also very critical about how their national education systems prepare them, a survey published on Thursday (21 February) revealed.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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