Skills that Tackle Youth Unemployment

01/03/2012 22:57 GMT | Updated 01/05/2012 10:12 BST

More than five and half million young people in Europe are unemployed and almost a quarter of Europe's youth are at risk of falling into poverty. Clearly the economic crisis has played a major role in the development of this unsustainable situation but we are also not doing all that we can to help these young people enter the labour market. One of the lowest-cost, highest return investments we can make is to start to address the skills gap while they are still in school.

A recent survey of business leaders from across Europe found that over 60% of respondents felt their country's education system was not adequately preparing students to enter the workforce. These sentiments have also been echoed by young people across Europe. Among the skills most often cited as lacking include those that cannot be learned or taught from a text book, such as taking initiative, entrepreneurship and teamwork.

These are often referred to as transversal skills - those that can be used in any job. Transversal skills help people transform their knowledge of math, science, languages and history into valuable outcomes. However, traditional teaching methods and course curricula are often not designed to support the development of these cross-curricular skills.

As result, students don't always understand the relevance of what they are learning; they lose interest and motivation. Even worse, they may make poor education choices later on and too many are dropping out of school altogether - about six million per year. In countries like the UK, students that are not in education, employment or training has risen to nearly one million young people!

Learning by doing

Respected philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey coined the phrase 'learning-by-doing'. He believed that true knowledge is produced by practical activities where students are required to interact with the subject and others, such as lab experiments in science class. Students' understanding of the subject takes an evolutionary trajectory as their experience with the material changes through their interaction with it.

While the benefits of learning from one's experience is self-evident and is advocated by teachers, education systems have often struggled to find practical ways to implement this approach in the classroom. If we as a society are not able to integrate more project-based learning into the school day, future generations will lack the competences they need to compete in an ever more intensely competitive fast-moving global economy. Enterprise and entrepreneurship education are key.

Public-private partnerships needed in education

Our experience as a global organisation spans nearly 100 years. We have always focused on bringing the business community into direct contact with young people in the classroom - as early as possible - and giving young people access to their experience and expertise. It's a powerful educational partnership with teachers.

Governments and business communities that have co-invested in entrepreneurship education and support strong school-to-work schemes are achieving the best results in the fight against youth unemployment.

In Europe, our organisation has currently engaged approximately 140,000 business volunteers to work with more than three million students in 36 European countries to develop students' entrepreneurship skills, increase their employability and to empower them to make sounds financial decisions.

Participants in our mini-company programmes are four to five times more likely than their peers to start a business later on. They create, on average, 64,000 new businesses a year. Our alumni find jobs, are better paid and become net contributors to society.

While the EU and Member States have committed themselves to providing entrepreneurship education in schools and financial literacy education has become a hot topic since the financial crisis, not enough leaders have genuinely pushed for national action on the ground.

The business community also needs to recognise they should be part of the skills-based education supply chain. The most important contribution businesses can make to the education of future generations is through the sharing of their experiences and knowledge and mentoring students during the final years of their studies.

The needed change

To succeed we need to change mindsets. Students need to become more proactive about their future but they require support and encouragement. Educators need good programmes to structure and sustain their partnership with business people. Businesses need to understand more clearly the role they can play. Policymakers need to recognise the positive impacts such programmes can have on the education system and society as a whole.

Investment in education is among the most cost-effective we can make and it endures. The average cost per student for our schemes in Europe is 20€ per year. Yet, entrepreneurship education goes on to generate huge economic returns through increasing the number of new businesses, increasing employability and reducing state social costs.

We have to start early to give young people a chance.