Private, public sectors build bridges to boost entrepreneurship

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While the EU is marred by a severe debt crisis and a lackluster economic recovery, schools and companies are trying to make the changes necessary to adapt the workforce to new challenges and increase entrepreneurship and competitiveness. 

At a 19 September event, a 'global enterprise project' was launched by the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JA-YE), and the EU education ministries network Schoolnet.

The project will give school students practical exposure to company situations, and allow teachers from different countries to benefit from different experiences and best practices. It is managed by JA-YE in association with Schoolnet, and supported by 18 ERT members, plus the EU Comenius programme.

"Entrepreneurship is not only about creating your own business, but also innovating and creating new businesses inside of existing companies. It is about attitudes and taking responsibility for one's life and career," said Brian Ager, ERT secretary-general in an interview with EURACTIV.

Most new jobs in Europe are created by Small and Medium Sized companies, not by large corporations. Participants in early-stage entrepreneurship education are 4-5 times more likely to start their own business at a young age, and have high rates of employability in both the private and public sectors.

However, the European Commission estimates that less than 5% of young people in Europe receive entrepreneurship education in school.

Moreover, building early awareness of entrepreneurship to teenagers requires access of practitioners to schools, which is not easy in some countries. Traditionally, the private sector and the education systems have cooperated, if at all, mainly at university level.

Faced with the economic crisis and encouraged by the Europe 2020 framework, there is a better fit between EU SME and education policies, and the EU social funds. The initiative aims to improve cooperation between private and public stakeholders, and also within the European Commission itself.

To read the full interview with Brian Ager, please click here.

Brian Ager, ERT Secretary-General, explained his organisation's support saying "With 18 participating ERT Members, companies will provide not only financial resources but also 2,000 volunteers to go into the schools to coach the students and to be judges in competitions working with 15-18 year-old students in Europe."

The other two associations involved stressed the timeliness of the initiative. Caroline Jenner CEO of JA-YE Europe, said: "The effect of the recession on young people has remained dramatic, despite recent stabilisation. Young people are not very aware of what is happening in the world of business and industry—they enter the workforce without many of the skills they need to be employable".

She added that "We urgently need to scale up efforts like this and motivate young people or we risk perpetually high drop-out rates and losing a generation to unemployment."

Marc Durando, Executive Director of European Schoolnet, commented:"Partnerships between business and Ministries of Education are essential to give students a taste of the world of work during their education. This new initiative reinforces our existing activities with ERT and ERT member companies, where we encourage young people to learn more about scientific careers".

He also stated that business and entrepreneurship skills are the next step in encouraging young people to plan and engage successfully in working life.

Supporting companies explained their involvement at the launch event, directly to teachers. Telefonica, represented by Public Affairs manager Jaime Alabart, declared "We Europeans need to create a new raft of companies, and quickly! For this, we need to promote entrepreneurship, and to engage people already at secondary schools."

He also explained the telecom operators' choice of this project: "Because JA-YE is the largest provider of entrepreneurship education, and Schoolnet has excellent access to schools."

Turning to teachers, Alabart added: We are going to give you the tools, the people to help you […]. We are giving not only our efforts, but also our money. If you have problems [in implementing], please let us know.'

Jean-Marc Boxus is executive partner with Accenture Belgium. His consultancy wants to help bring 250,000 people into the job market by 2015, and hopes this project will contribute one fifth of this target.

Nokia's Marko Mahkonen is in charge of 'education policy', not a frequent title in corporations. The equipment manufacturers' manager stated that some of Europe's education is outdated, so the challenge is to speed up reforms.

Carlo Scatoli, in charge of skills and education at the Commission's DG Education and Culture, welcomed that entrepreneurship is now part of the core skills recommended for national curricula, and hopes for further developments under the Europe 2020 strategy.

Raymond Maes, in charge of Youth Employment, entrepreneurship and microfinance, in the DG Employment and Social Affairs said that so far, ministries for social affairs may have been less attentive to entrepreneurship. But, on the ground, action is under way: over the 2007-2013 financial perspective period, €2.75 billion are being invested by EU countries in entrepreneurship.

He also called for better policies: "Flexicurity should also apply in this area. Social protection schemes are needed, especially in these crisis days, so that unsuccessful entrepreneurs can get unemployment support and then become employed again."

Stressing the need to build bridges between policies, Maes stated: "Start-ups can now access microfinance within the EU social fund framework, up to 25,000 euros. Then, growing entrepreneurs can graduate into SME support coordinated by DG Enterprise and other bodies."

Europe is often seen as being less entrepreneurial than the US, where it is popularly believed that people are more willing to take risks.

Entrepreneurs can tap into national and European funds to help them get their businesses off the ground, although some would prefer governments simply to leave them to it.

Reflecting the situation in national ministries, different directorates-general of the European Commission often follow different agendas, notably in the areas of industry, employment and education. The situation started changing a few years ago, with the joint DG Enterprise/DG Education Communication on education for entrepreneurship.

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