Forging vocational skills pathways for the next generation

girl with digital tablet

This European Vocational Skills Week, organizations across the EU are hosting events and activities that emphasize the positive effects of vocational training on employability. This is particularly true when it comes to digital skills. A new report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Council has found that one third of the EU labor force has no or almost no digital skills. Yet it also showed how most future jobs will require at least a moderate level of digital skills, combined with strong non-cognitive skills, such as curiosity, creativity, collaboration, or responsibility.

With companies across Europe digitizing their business models and operations, the need for digitally-skilled employees is only going to increase. Clearly, participating in the digital economy means that people will need digital skills and companies will need skilled workers. To meet this demand, we need to fundamentally rethink our approach to skills education and, more specifically, our emphasis on lifelong learning. This is currently an underserved and underappreciated area: in 2018, just 11% of EU citizens aged 25 and over participated in lifelong learning. Yet in an era of rapid change, it’s vital that workers of all ages and experience can regularly reskill throughout their careers to meet the demands of emerging jobs. To do this, we need greater cooperation between and across industries, the public sector, and civil society.

It is in this spirit that Nestlé and Microsoft have today launched a unique career pathways initiative focused on boosting the employment prospects for young apprentices in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing is one of Europe’s strongest sectors and one with huge potential to benefit from digitization – but it needs people with the right skills to do so.

Under the framework of the Alliance for YOUth and Global Apprenticeship Network, our joint initiative consists of a pilot digital skills certification program involving more than 60 apprentices, who come from underprivileged backgrounds and are working in Nestlé’s French factories. Over a period of four months, the apprentices will participate in two digital bootcamps and undergo a total of 42 hours of virtual and face to face training provided by, a network of social digital factories.

The Initiative’s aim is to boost apprentices’ fundamental digital knowledge as well as their specific AI, robotics, and computer programming skills. This will open-up new job prospects within Nestlé and beyond and prepare them for a future-focused career in manufacturing. Pending the successful deployment of the pilot program, we aim to roll it out more widely and help non-profit partners scale it in other communities and markets.

Investing in projects like this are part of Microsoft’s strategic investment in skills development and employability. But the investment also speaks to our longstanding commitment to forging partnerships that allow us to expand our reach. We believe that technology can help everyone, everywhere achieve more – and this starts with making sure that people are skilled for success.

More information can be found here.

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.