Youth unemployment: Addressing the skills gap

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

portrat_jutta.png [Jutta Steinruck]

It is time to address the high levels of youth unemployment across the EU by offering young people the skills they need to play an active part in the European economy, writes Jutta Steinruck.

Jutta Steinruck is a German MEP in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

It has become almost commonplace to cite daunting statistics about the sustained level of youth unemployment in the EU, with some countries having as much as 25 percent of their youth out of work. We have gotten used to those statistics and these figures no longer make media headlines. This gives us a sense of false hope that the problem has been solved, or is being solved at the moment. No, it is not.

The outlook remains gloomy despite significant public funds spent on solving this problem over the past few years. In the meantime, we keep on hearing that there are almost 2 million unfilled vacancies in the EU, and that some employers are so desperate to find skilled workers that they have to look outside the EU’s borders.

Which brings me to think that it is not just the availability of jobs that matter, but the capacity of European youth to fill the available vacancies. What I hear from the industry is that they are desperately looking for young talents with ICT, entrepreneurial and soft skills, and solid foundations in financial literacy and self-management.

Is there anything being done to address this skills mismatch and make sure that the young workforce entering the job market has the skills that are clearly required by employers? Yes, but certainly not enough, as the problem persists.

Are we also doing enough to inspire young people to pursue an entrepreneurial career and give them all the tools they need to start their own business? And I am not talking here about dispersing more public funds or providing financial subsidies, I am talking about skills, competencies and nurturing the right mindset. We must look for cost-effective ways to align the young workforce with the demands of the existing job market while we wait for the EU economy to recover and create new jobs.

Recently, a consortium of public bodies and private companies have launched an Entrepreneurial Skills Pass (ESP) – a new European qualification in entrepreneurship for young people, giving potential employers proof that its holder has real entrepreneurship experience and relevant job skills including financial literacy.

It is also clear that one initiative cannot solve this problem. We need similar projects to emerge across the Europe, both at EU and national levels, to help young people qualify for available vacancies.

But such initiatives cannot be and should not be designed and implemented by policymakers and educators alone. We need strong participation from other actors, such as private companies and industry associations, because they are the source of real knowledge about key job skills.

After all, having a competent young workforce is everyone’s job, because it determines the competitiveness of the EU economy as a whole.

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