What Europe’s millennials want in 2018

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

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One-third of the EU’s population is under the age of 30. So what do today’s youth think about our world and their place in it? What areas should be prioritised in the EU’s next post-2020 budget, set to be presented in May 2018? John Hewko provides some insight.

John Hewko is the General Secretary of Rotary International.

A new World Economic Forum survey gives us some answers. Firstly, the millennial generation views climate change and conflict as the most critical issues we face.  Secondly, they regard a “start-up ecosystem and entrepreneurship” as the most important factor contributing to youth empowerment in a country.

In addition to these priorities, young people feel their voice is not being heard. 61.9% of European respondents to the survey disagreed with the statement: “In my country, young people’s views are considered before important decisions are taken”.

How can we address some of those pressing concerns in Europe?

Let’s start with the question of entrepreneurship.

The majority of young people are optimistic about the impact of technology and innovation: 78.6% think technology is “creating jobs” as opposed to “destroying jobs” (21.4%).

However, a decade after the global financial crisis, can technology alone address the EU’s high youth unemployment rate of 16.7%, with figures as high as 35%, 38.7%, and 43.3% in Italy, Spain and Greece?

Youth employment schemes, like the EU’s Youth Guarantee programme, which pledges new employment, education or an apprenticeship to those under the age of 25 “within a period of four months of becoming unemployed”, may not go far enough in addressing long-term unemployment, or structural barriers to entrepreneurial growth.

The pursuit of innovation for its own sake is also not the answer to the challenge of youth unemployment. Many projects to stimulate entrepreneurship have failed because they have attempted to replicate the nonpareil of innovation, Silicon Valley. In the words of Stanford Business School lecturer Federico Antoni “no government programme, no internal market will create a new Silicon Valley”.

To put this in perspective, according to The Spectator: “Facebook, which was founded in 2004, is worth about twice as much as the 40 European unicorns [start-ups valued at a billion dollars or more] put together”.

If our mission is to reduce youth unemployment and social conflicts in Europe, then a better strategy would play to the strengths of particular regions with solutions tailored to local needs.

This is especially important as, in 2018, the EU will continue to struggle with the reality of a record 65 million-plus displaced people in need of shelter, safety, and employment. About half of global refugees are under the age of 18, so our actions to assist them will directly affect our progress on youth empowerment and conflict prevention.

Of particular concern is the opportunism of extremist organisations, who are “filling the void in state services for desperate refugees in their country of origin and ‘safe third country’,” according to the first detailed report on Pathways of Youth Fleeing Extremism, by the counter-extremist organisation Quilliam.

One response to this phenomenon is the work of Anne Kjaer Riechert, a Danish Rotary peace fellow alumnus living in Berlin. Her ReDi School of Digital Integration, founded in February 2016, intervened to meet the needs of two constituencies: the migrants entering Germany who sought gainful employment, and the companies who needed to fill 43,000 open IT-jobs in Germany. The coding school she co-founded has already supported the emergence of three start-ups.

Mutually beneficial economic integration initiatives like ReDi offer a model for the future, as Europe anticipates 756,000 open IT-jobs by 2020. These projects also reflect the attitudes of young people; a majority of young Europeans believe host countries should “try to include [refugees] in the national workforce”.

The Redi School is just one small-scale endeavour, and integrating refugees and young people into the workforce requires concrete financial commitments in the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework, as Luiz Alvarado Martinez of European Youth Forum has stated.

One area for potential increased investment is Social Impact Investing, which, since it became part of the G8 agenda in 2013, offers a new model for harnessing the power of non-profit and private interventions.

SIBs are a pay-for-success model to help governments fund critical social programs, through a combination of government initiation, private investment, and non-profit implementation.

For example, in Brussels, it is estimated that the state saves 35,000 Euros per migrant worker who finds employment. The first Belgian Social Impact Bond (SIB) is attempting to reduce unemployment among young migrants, matching them with local retirees who used to work in their field of employment interest, who will advise them and also make connections with suitable employers.

Should one-third of the participants find employment, the state could realise savings of around €2m, a figure over eight times higher than the initial cost of the intervention.

This SIB is innovative in identifying networking as a central problem to migrants, rather than purely education. Empirical research tells us that the networks fostered by volunteer organisations have the greatest potential to deliver longer-term material gains, such as employment opportunities.

In conclusion, our efforts to give millennials what they want in 2018 should be measured against two questions articulated by tomorrow’s leaders. Firstly, does it take their views seriously, with inclusive solutions tailored to local needs, and enough opportunities to build resilience in young people against radicalisation?

Secondly, does it fall into some of the same innovation traps which have derailed previous attempts to expand the positive impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

We already have many sustainable solutions at our fingertips – it should be a priority in 2018 to empower the generation who want to make a difference and to do so quickly.

A version of this article was published on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog.

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