Entrepreneurial skills as a vital tool to empower young people in Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Martina Dlabajova, MEP [JA Europe]

European Union as the leading power of innovation and technological progress is by all means a great idea. But what are we doing today to achieve this vision of tomorrow? I believe that in order to make the EU a competitive and resilient partner, we must invest in people and focus on education now more than ever, writes Martina Dlabajová.

Martina Dlabajová is a member of the European Parliament.

Facing considerable demographic, social and economic challenges, the EU should pay particular attention to its most exceptional asset – the Europeans, starting with the youth. In my previous text published last year, I focused on the problematic lack of digital education.

I concluded that in a rapidly changing global world, it is mainly skills that will become the engine of our competitiveness. There is a change in the way we are working and education can no longer lag behind. This is equally valid even for entrepreneurial skills, which I will be focusing on today.

In the past years, the European strategy on youth employment has been widely amended taking into consideration these challenges, for example by the New Skills agenda for Europe that I was a rapporteur to in the European Parliament.

This programme was launched to introduce concrete actions aiming at improving the quality and relevance of training, with many activities specifically focused on skills and tackling their mismatches, which is still a considerable obstacle on the labour market. In many EU member states the education institutions are often not building reliable pathways between theoretical knowledge obtained at school and needed skills in practice.

Therefore, many young people, after several years of study at university or after obtaining vocational training, finally enter the labour market for the first time only to discover that their knowledge and skill set does not correspond with the market’s demand.

Understandably, it is complicated to propose a comprehensive study plan, which would allow us to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, when we do not know what those will be.

I am often asked how to provide grounds for the young generation for their successful future employment, while the labour market as well as the required skillset, is constantly changing. I believe the right answer is the focus on teaching entrepreneurial skills on all educational levels.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset does not automatically mean that every young individual must become a businessman or businesswoman. It is rather a new way of dealing with upcoming challenges that inevitably arise as the digital revolution progresses.

Digitalisation will affect the way of working in terms of job content, job dynamics, forms of work, job profiles or location. Due to technological advances, skills that we teach at school today might be considered outdated tomorrow.

There is and will be an obvious need for specific technical IT and digital skills, but we also cannot forget about the increasing importance of soft skills, strong interpersonal and cognitive skills such as creativity and emotional intelligence or adaptability. Moreover, such features as being a free-thinker, a problem solver, being willing to take risks and being innovative must become crucial elements in youngster’s education scheme.

For me, entrepreneurial mind and skill set, which we should promote in schools today, is the way of always searching the most efficient way of completing any task. Entrepreneurs are people who try to think outside the box and outside the pre-established frameworks. People who are also creative and dedicated to the cause. I believe teaching our children these values is crucial for the EU’s competitiveness and our future.

There are many ways how the entrepreneurial attitude can be fostered. Primarily by motivating students from a very young age, since it is our collective and societal responsibility to take on the mentoring role, to give them concrete examples and to show them what awaits them after leaving school.

In order to ensure a smooth transition from school to work, young people should be able to get in touch with the responsibilities and the work-life experience even before they finish their studies. There are different formats of how to make this happen, including various apprenticeships and traineeships.

For me, it is extremely important to put in place concrete measures and actions to motivate our youth to be more pro-active, to stimulate their curiosity, to strengthen their confidence and to encourage them to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude.

By close cooperation of the private sector, policymakers and education institutions, we should be able to anticipate and reduce the current skills gap. All the relevant stakeholders should have a say in this.

About 40% of companies are struggling to find qualified staff and at the same time, the unemployment rate among young people aged from 15 to 25 in Europe is alarming. This means that governments, businesses and the world of education and training all need to be involved in the establishment of educational programmes and modules.

In order to keep up with the pace of innovation and changes, it is necessary to reform the logic of our education systems and to establish a much closer link between theoretical and practical knowledge. To better align the skills we teach our youngsters with labour market needs.

I personally believe in the power of European youth, which has always been the driving force of the EU evolution. Young people are our future and I believe it is our duty to ensure they are obtaining the best education possible.

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