Why look for new solutions to youth employability when some are already working?

Today, millions of job positions remain untaken in Europe. Yet millions of young people are unemployed. The Youth Employability Award recently organised by Microsoft, Accenture and Adecco aimed at presenting efficient solutions to this issue.

During the Employment Forum session where the awards were granted, three realities of today’s Europe were emphasized. The first one is that traditional higher education often does not provide students with the soft skills and experience that recruiters are asking for. Second, students have more chance of finding a job if they are more mobile and adaptable. Third, companies complain that young people who try to enter the labour market very often seriously lack IT skills. To these obstacles that are plaguing European youth nowadays and threaten the future of our labour market, concrete answers exist.

As illustration of this, for the past four years, PH International has been improving IT education that engages socially disadvantaged young people that are often unemployed across Ukraine through the Information Dissemination and Equal Access (IDEA) Project. IDEA centres provide trainings and specialised computer software to local communities to increase their quality of life and multiply their employment perspectives.

PH International’s activities respond to difficult questions: why does traditional education seem not to generate massive interest from students towards IT education? How can young people be expected to develop IT skills if they do not have proper access to technology? We urge public institutions and private organisations to support local initiatives such as PH and to try to integrate their models as much as possible in traditional education.

This means following on from the leadership of companies like Microsoft that not only provides funding and software for the initiative, but also gives these actionable solutions high visibility through channels such as this youth award.

Sharing now some perspectives from my own organization, JADE, a network of 280 student-run companies called Junior Enterprises, and our award winning solution for youth entrepreneurship. We encourage universities to create their own Junior Enterprise and companies to work with Junior Enterprises where they are surprised by the professionalism and the creativity that students can demonstrate. Each Junior Enterprise is attached to a university and aims to put in practice what the students learn during classes. Through running projects for actual companies, students get an intense experience of the labour market. At the end of their study, they hand over the company to future generations of students and this has been going on for 45 years in certain JEs.

The success of this concept raises important questions: can everything be taught in the classroom? Can universities use such a concept to advertise & market the skills of their students to companies? How is it possible that initiatives set up by students generate better-prepared graduates than traditional academia (as per statistics of the European Commission?)

Addressing the critical angle of youth mobility, AIESEC has been running its Global Internship Programme for a number of years. The concept is simple: through AIESEC, students get the opportunity to find internships abroad and to discover another country and culture. AIESEC is present in 113 countries and can therefore coordinate actions that a student alone could not. It is meeting the need for students to have access to a properly structured international work experience programme, which is often missing in their universities.

AIESEC is showing students that they do not need to limit their professional lives to their own country and that there exists other students in the world who want to exchange with them. It also implicitly urges universities to develop their international exchange programmes. What is common to AIESEC and JADE is that they are not only implementing a model that yields high results, but they also have built upon this good practice for several decades in order to improve it continuously. They show that when students need something but do not get it from traditional institutions, they tend to try to obtain it by themselves, with great success. A success that could be much greater if decision makers seriously started, like Microsoft, Accenture and Adecco have been doing for some years now, to collaborate more deeply with these organisations. Universities can should ask themselves if they really measure the impact of their own student organisations and if they support them as much as they deserve.

Given the success of this Youth Employability Award, we call for companies to follow the steps of Microsoft, Accenture and Adecco by starting such multi-company initiatives in support of putting more young people on the career ladder. Fostering initiatives for youth, skills and employability is in the interest of society but also of industry itself.

Following on from the momentum of these Youth awards, Microsoft through their overarching programme ‘Youthspark’, Adecco Group through their labour market skills initiatives and Accenture through their ‘Skills to Succeed’ programme will continue to collaborate to implement and support further expertise that is driving jobs and growth in Europe for our next big bet: YOUTH!