Unlocking the Digital Revolution

Panos Economou may be only 14 but he already has grand plans for the future. One-half of the Greek team which soared to victory in the recent Kodu Kup Europe competition, Panos believes coding has the power to change the world for the better: “Our vision is to create something new which can help future generations.”

Increasingly, it is those young people who fully understand the digital world around them who will be best placed to shape it. Providing them with the skills and training to do this is crucial, and it can set Europe’s youth up for a lifetime of success.

Take Roxana Rugina, for example. Today, Roxana is the co-founder of Simplon IT, the Romanian branch of Simplon.co, a non-profit organization supported by Microsoft YouthSpark, which provides digital skills and entrepreneurship training for underrepresented youth. Roxana describes the best part of her job as empowering others to succeed.

But Roxana wasn’t always doing what she loves for a living.

Until she took part in Simplon’s six-month intensive programming boot camp, she hadn’t been able to turn her childhood passion for coding into a career. The camp not only fast-tracked her programming skills; it taught her how to combine tech talent and business acumen. Now Roxana’s entrepreneurial spirit is contagious, and she’s determined to share it.

Roxana’s commitment demonstrates how digital skills can empower young people to shape their own futures and those of others. The importance of this cannot be understated. Last year, a study found that almost 30% of European employers had unfilled vacancies due to not finding anyone with the right skills. Meanwhile 1 in 5 young Europeans is out of work.

No one understands this paradox better than 18-year old Beatrice Viotti, who took part in the Microsoft YouthSpark-supported Meet No Neet campaign – aiming to empower young Italians to shape their own success stories, with the tagline “Il mio futuro? #dipendedame!” (My future depends on me). That’s exactly what Beatrice did, when she co-designed a social innovation app “Up Calabria” to promote her region to tourists.

Both Roxana and Beatrice have benefited immensely from learning to code, and the skills they’ve acquired will carry them through their lives. Even more importantly, they’ve been able to pass on those benefits to others.

Unfortunately, Panos, Roxana and Beatrice remain the exception, not the rule.

Few young people in Europe have access to the kind of high-level digital skills training which can spur them on to future success. In many schools, coding remains an often-overlooked option, rather than being treated as a foundational subject. This despite the fact that 90% of all jobs now require some level of digital skills.

European policymakers have reached out to industry for help in moving things forward. Initiatives such as the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs – which brings together public and private actors to attract young people into ICT education – and the European Coding Initiative – a pan-European coding platform launched by Microsoft and other industry partners to provide teachers and students with coding resources and training – are already having an impact.

But more needs to be done to ensure every single young person in Europe benefits from the level of digital skills training they need.

That’s why Microsoft is calling for policymakers across Europe to take three concrete steps towards making this happen. The first step is making sure coding becomes as integral to European students’ timetables as reading, writing and mathematics. This can only happen if computing is integrated across national curricula, with support driven at a European level.

Secondly, establishing higher-level ICT competencies as part of the European framework on key competences for lifelong learning is crucial in helping to promote ICT as a core skill for the labour market, but also for social cohesion and active citizenship. Currently, only basic “digital competence” is included in the framework – this is not enough.

Finally, it is essential that policymakers support all teachers across Europe with the right training and resources they need to successfully deliver ICT curricula. Many teachers are raring to go when it comes to all things digital – they just need a little boost to get there.

In conjunction with the boundless enthusiasm and ingenuity of Europe’s youth, these targeted measures will allow students across the region to unlock the transformative power of the digital revolution.

Sylvie Laffarge
Director Philanthropies Europe

Sylvie Laffarge is Director of Philanthropies Europe. She joined Microsoft in 2006 and currently leads Microsoft's YouthSpark and Technology for Good efforts across Europe, driving alignment with European public policy priorities around issues related to youth, employment, digital skills, entrepreneurship, and CSR. Launched in 2012, Microsoft YouthSpark is a global, company-wide initiative designed to create opportunities for three hundred million youth around the world. Through partnerships with governments, nonprofits and businesses, its aim is to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities. Sylvie previously held leadership and external representation roles in numerous CSR, ICT policy and trade associations and non-profits in Brussels, on the subject of youth employment, ICT and skills. Prior to joining Microsoft she led the corporate community relations office for The Walt Disney Company. She pioneered Disney's community affairs strategy in Europe and was instrumental during her 17 year tenure in developing the company's strong socially responsible profile. Sylvie Laffarge brought relevance to Disney's donation portfolio and initiated signature programs such as Disney's Compassionate Program, Disney VoluntEARS and the DisneyHand effort in Europe. Sylvie Laffarge is a graduate and post-graduate of the University of La Sorbonne in Paris.