Europe’s economy has been slowly recovering following the 2008 recession. But we should not let this distract us from the huge challenge which faces the youngest of our citizens. As it stands, over 7 million European 15-24 year olds are not currently in any form of training, education or employment. This represents a lost opportunity for every single one of them – but also for the economy as a whole.
Yet, even as young people struggle to get their foot on the employment ladder, there is also a growing shortage of talent to fill existing vacancies. For instance, within the ICT sector, the latest estimate from the European Commission predicts a shortage of 825,000 qualified professionals by 2020.
The only way to address such shortages is to provide the European youth of today with the skills and opportunities that will enable them to thrive tomorrow. This requires urgent collaboration between all stakeholders in industry, policy and education.
Europe’s leaders are discussing how to take on this challenge at this week’s Enterprise 2020 Summit, which calls on businesses and governments to work together on European and global challenges in a smart, sustainable and inclusive way. At the summit today, CSR Europe initiated a European Pact for Youth with the aim of boosting the number of high-quality business-education partnerships.
With the mutual engagement of business leaders and the European Commission, this will bring together businesses, educators, youth organizations and social partners who share a common goal: to prepare young people for quality jobs, boost youth employability and create a competitive and sustainable Europe. Microsoft is proud to be joining the initiative alongside companies and organizations from a range of sectors, including BASF, Randstad, Google, HP, Nestlé, and Huawei.
The pact will support the creation of 10,000 partnerships between businesses and educators who will in turn work together to produce 100,000 new high quality apprenticeships, traineeships or entry-level jobs. With the help of CSR Europe, all 28 EU Member States will build their own action plans which will be presented at the first ever European Enterprise-Education Summit in 2017. The fact that this initiative will also form a key part of the forthcoming New Skills Agenda for Europe is a welcome sign that EU leaders are taking steps to address the current mismatch between unfilled vacancies and rampant youth unemployment.
As one of the founding signatories of the EU’s Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, established in 2013, we have already taken concrete steps within our company to foster digital talent. In January 2014, we updated our pledge by promising to increase the number of digital apprenticeships and internships we support in Europe by 50% over 3 years; from 9,000 to 13,500. And since its launch more than three years ago, our global YouthSpark initiative has created opportunities for over 307 million youth worldwide with a renewed focus on computer science, as a game-changing skill for youth to be active in our digital economy.
These efforts have had concrete outcomes. For instance, more than 7,000 young people have begun their careers through Microsoft’s UK Apprenticeship Program since its launch in 2010. And it hasn’t just been young people who have seen the benefits. 9 out of 10 UK employers who took part in the scheme said that it provided young people with the skills and knowledge to make a real impact on the world around them. It is time to give every young European this chance.