The jobs of tomorrow, not today, will fix youth unemployment

March 22, 2012

–John Vassallo is Vice President of EU Affairs for Microsoft. The opinions expressed are his own.–

European Commissioner for Employment Laszló Andor recently estimated that youth unemployment costs Europe €2 billion per week. Absorbing just 20% of youth who aren’t in education, employment or training, into the European labour market, would thus save Member States more than €21 billion a year collectively. Apart from damaging Europe’s future competitiveness, at this rate we also risk depriving a generation of young people of a route into independence and self-development. More than 5.5 million under 25s in the European Union are unemployed. This translates to a youth unemployment rate of 22% – more than double the overall rate for the working population.

A recent McKinsey study noted that by the end of 2020, due to the speed of technology advances, two-thirds of the jobs that will be created globally do not even exist today. It is thus imperative that young people are equipped with the right skills to meet this future demand.  I believe that ICT skills in particular have a central role to play. Industry analysts IDC also maintain that 90% of jobs in Europe will require ICT skills, across all sectors, by 2013. This issue of “future skill demand” is currently being flagged by European businesses, with a London School of Economics study finding that large corporations across Europe report increasing need for e-skills among newly hired employees.

I’m encouraged to see the European Commission leading the charge in tackling youth unemployment. They deployed “Action Teams” to eight Member States in February to perform on-site analyses of youth unemployment, highlighting the challenges facing countries at national level.

In Spain, which has a youth unemployment rate of almost 50%, the Action Team found the gap between labour force skills and employee demands exacerbated by a very high level of early school leavers. Allocating EU Structural Funds to programmes which facilitate the transition from a student to the real world is a major step forward, but the private sector also has a significant ability to contribute.

Taking an example close to my heart, since 2009 the Microsoft citizenship community skills programme has reached 11 million people through training programs run by European non-profit organisations. The programme provides basic ICT training and competencies, leading to technical certifications recognised by industry, and giving unemployed youth a competitive edge. In Spain, 316 IT Academies trained 8,000 job seekers in the Microsoft IT Academy programme between 2010-2011. Significantly, at one such academy, 84.3% of people trained found a job within six months, and 92.7% reported their job conditions improving as a result of the training (

In Greece, where youth unemployment is soaring at 51% (according to Greek statistics agency Elstat’s figures – 8 March 2012), entrepreneurship training that enables young people to acquire new skills is considered one of the short term solutions. Together with the Hellenic Professionals Informatics Society, Microsoft is rolling out a youth technology initiative in Greece, providing over 100,000 young people with free on and off-line opportunities to improve their ICT, technology and business skills.

While some young people need support in acquiring ICT skills others already have the skills, they just need to have them consolidated and certified. Initiatives such as the upcoming e-Skills Week 2012, are exceptionally valuable in bringing together industry, governments and NGOs, to devise solutions to empower young people for their future. No single organisation, company or government can achieve this alone. It’s the job of all us today to bridge the opportunity divide.


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