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Providing Real Life Experiences and Enhancing Employable Skills

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Just two days ago Guardian talked about a generation across Europe with its future on hold. More than one fifth of Europe's youth is currently unemployed which makes youth unemployment one of the most pressing problems faced by Europe today. Europe also suffers from high rates of drop-outs which will only exacerbate the problem in the longer term.

Young people play an essential role in Europe's economic and social development. We need to invest in that potential while they are still in school - a time when more than 60% express an interest in entrepreneurship, for example, but less than 5% have access to entrepreneurship education. Unemployment is a constant threat. Entrepreneurship has been and will always be one of the best defences. Europe's low rates of entrepreneurship are just as much of a problem as its high rates of unemployment.

I like to say that we, in Junior Achievement - Young Enterprise, are in the business of increasing society's entrepreneurial potential. What does that mean? It means ensuring people have some real world experience with entrepreneurship at a young age so they know what it feels like. At JA-YE we are focused on making sure young people are better prepared to succeed later on--no matter what they choose to do. Experience is highly motivating and preparedness builds confidence.

In times of tight resources, the best way to fight youth unemployment is to join forces and engage in public-private partnerships, channeling resources from governments, educators and the private sector to empower young people and improve their employability. An excellent example of how this can be put into practice was shown last week in Brussels during Leaders-for-a-Day - an initiative organised by my organisation in partnership with Microsoft and Accenture. 40 Students from all over the world gathered in Brussels and each of them shadowed a high level business leader or politician for one day which allowed them to get a unique insight into the dynamics of the world of work and a thorough understanding of the skills needed for success.

The students who participated in Leaders-for-a-Day not only improved their business acumen, social and entrepreneurial skills but also boosted their confidence by engaging directly with successful leaders. Initiatives like these make people in government and business more aware of the practical challenges young people face and how they, as leaders, can so easily be part of the solution. And if a one-day experience can make such a difference, just imagine what a full year programme could do?

Another example is a project we are running with Intel where we connect innovation and entrepreneurship encouraging students to apply their STEM and entrepreneurial skills to help them come up with commercially viable solutions.

The Sci-preneurship student contest that took place in Barcelona on Monday and Tuesday is a European competition where teams of students from 18 participating countries -some possessing strong STEM backgrounds, while others who have business and entrepreneurial experience- worked together in mixed international teams to design projects that could have a significant positive impact on society.

The demand for a more entrepreneurial workforce in government and in the private sector, for more job creation, for new businesses, for social enterprises is too great. The skills gap is too ominous. We know our current system cannot deliver 100% on that --because it wasn't built for that and it can't change fast enough. If we want to see more entrepreneurship down the road, we need to be catalysts inside the system. Our focus is to support schools, engage the business community and scale up in order to see real economic impact.

As Young Enterprise UK turns 50 this year and its numerous alumni success stories make for a solid case to talk about the impact of the organisation in a region and at a time when its youth is faced with unacceptable unemployment levels. The evidence suggests that investment in JA pays off. The recent research in the UK showed 46% of JA Alumni end up running their own business compared to 26% in the control group.21% set up internet or cloud-based businesses and 11% employed between 51 and 99 people. 12% had turnover above 500,000 GBP (800,000 USD) compared to just 3% in the control group. As one alumnus put it: "You can't learn to swim by reading a book. You have to at least paddle around a bit while doing it and Young Enterprise gives you that, the chance to paddle."