Microsoft’s YouthSpark: a kiss of Life to European Youth from the European Parliament

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Part 3 of the Sting’s Special Edition: European Employment & Youth

Two weeks ago, on 14 November, the European Sting attended the event at the European Parliament, organized by the European Youth Forum and YouthIntergroup, titled “Internships: a Call for Quality”. Here we present the third piece of our Special Edition “European Youth & Employment”. This piece reflects the Industry’s perspective, and particularly the ICT sector’s contribution, to European Youth and Employment or, better said, Unemployment. It was given to the European Sting through an exclusive interview with two top executives of Microsoft, Mrs Sylvie J. Laffarge, Director of EU Institutional Relations & Citizenship, and Mrs Afke Schaart, Senior Director of EU Institutional Relations.

Below, you will find the questions of the European Sting and the answers of the two top executives from Microsoft. Because the interview was held in the form of an open dialogue using the Sting’s questions as stimuli, both Microsoft executives gave collectively their answers for each question in a non linear manner, in the form of an open conversation. Therefore from now on, Mrs Laffarge’s and Mrs Schaart’s answers will be signalled as a whole with the term “Microsoft”.

The Sting: Does Microsoft have any Youth Internship/Grad Schemes? If yes, could you present them to our readers describing the details of those programmes, i.e. participation, duration, demographics?

Microsoft talked to us here about a programme specially designed for young people, YouthSpark. In fact YouthSpark is an umbrella initiative of the American ICT giant, part of its Corporate Citizenship programme. Mircosoft’s Corporate Citizenship programme is the expression of the company’s corporate responsibility. YouthSpark is the programme within Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship aimed to contribute to youth’s global education on ICT and better employability.

We aim to refer here briefly to Microsoft’s YouthSpark and how it strives to bridge the great European gap today between the big needs of the market and the poor e-skills of European youth. This is to present to our young readers, on the one hand, the opportunities lying within Microsoft for them, and on the other, to show to our adult readers engaged in EU Affairs how badly they need the industry to show them the way though Youth Employment and Education.

YouthSpark was globally launched last year and is being currently ‘relaunched’ by Microsoft this autumn in Europe through the event in which we participated, at the EP and more. In order for this programme to work, Microsoft has established partnerships with an extensive network of non profit organizations, businesses and governments and offers services on three majour levels: education, employment and entrepreneurship; opportunities for young people around the world. For the educational opportunities, the YouthSpark programme contains the following modules: Student Partners, Innovation Centers, Technology Education Literacy Schools, Digital Literacy Curriculum and Learning. For Employability, YouthSpark has the following modules: Students to Business, Internships, IT Academy, Research. Last but not least, YouthSpark offers opportunities for Entrepreneurship, an area where the EU is underperforming. The modules there are: BizSpark, DreamSpark, Imagine Cup and Imagine Cup Grants.

Let’s see now some facts and figures concerning the above modules of YouthSpark in Europe during this one year of full operation:

– 1.000 European start-ups supported by BizSpark

-18.000 students trained at Innovation Centers

-6.000 students participated at Image Cup

-388.000 students earned certifications through Microsoft IT Academy

-5.000 students gained career skills ad work through Students2Business

-4.000.000 students and educators participated at DreamSpark

The Sting: Do European Young people have the e-skills required by the industry and particularly by Microsoft? What is the comparison of the European “e-skills status” with the US?

Microsoft representatives were quite clear on this one. Using Commissioner’s Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda, acknowledgement that there will be a shortfall of 900,000 jobs by 2015 in Europe, the two powerful ladies of the ICT major player answered that Europe is underperforming in e-skills for young people. Both Mrs Schaart and Mrs Laffarge stated that ICT is not an important part in the curriculum of European schools. Also, it was mentioned that there is an urgent need for European students to get in touch with programming and coding classes from an early stage of their school career. Unfortunately this is not the case for the European education system at the moment.

Moreover, it was underlined that it does not suffice that only the students are ICT educated but also the teachers have to be trained adequately. In the comparison of the European ‘status’ of youth’s ICT skills with other parts of the world,  Mrs Laffarge and Schaart explained to us that in the US the system is completely different. Particularly, they pointed to the American education program called STEM that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The US allegedly show particular interest in the implementation of those majors in all stages of education. Of course the Microsoft executives omitted to say here that the STEM, as everything that has to do with school and education at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean follows the standard American principle for everything that is related with social goods, that is “No Money, No Honey”. But overall, it is true that the average European student is not as competitive in ICT skills as the American, if of course the American can afford good education at all anyway.

The Sting: Does Microsoft fund ICT research in Europe? What is the situation in European countries in economic and financial distress like Italy, Spain or Greece?

Microsoft’s top executives gave us a very good example, Microsoft Research Cambridge. This is a research institute at Cambridge University in the UK where today more than 100 researchers produce groundbreaking research in computer science. We see this initiative as a very good case where the industry approaches European Academia to endorse research opportunities. However, we did not succeed to get an answer whether this kind of initiatives happen from the Microsoft’s side in other parts of Europe, in less famous universities than Cambridge. Having said that, we invite here the ICT giant to provide the European Sting with further examples, if any, where the company endorses ICT research in Europe. We commit that provided we receive the input, we will publish it as it is given to us.

The Sting: Does the ICT policy making in Europe encourage the growth of the ICT sector in the Old Continent?

Mrs Schaart and Mrs Laffarge first of all expressed their concern on the lack of Single Market in the European Union. They are convinced, though, that the Commission’s proposal, scheduled for the end of the year, will solve the issues currently faced by the industry. Moreover, Mrs Schaart referred to internet throttling, the case where the telecom providers deliberately slow down the internet speed of mobile internet, so that the users quit using free call applications like skype and instead start making regular paid calls. It is understandable that since Microsoft has included Skype in its product quiver, the company is much more sensitive to net neutrality in Europe. What is more, the Dutch executive stated to us that in her home country, the Netherlands, net neutrality has been secured with special regulation. She also thinks that the EU can work together with the industry, in order to work out an effectively neutral European internet.

YouthSpark – a kiss of life

All in all, the interview with Microsoft gave us some very stimulating first input on the way the industry can contribute to European Education and Employment for youth. And this is really an area where our EU leaders are underperforming. Youth unemployment (under 25) in Europe is skyrocketing (October 2013: 23,8% in EU28, 24,4% in Eurozone, 58% in Greece – Aug 2013, 57,4% in Spain and 52.4% in Croatia-Q3) at embarrassing records that even give a good reason for the young generation of Europe to migrate to look for a better life. And then, we are encouraged to already say goodbye to the 2020 targets for Employment, 6 years ahead of the delivery of the target! At the European Employment Forum we even met an MEP that cannot understand nor explain to us why some member states reach unemployment levels close to the ones of Afghanistan (40%). So, in a dreadful environment like this, where some European youngsters are obliged to live until their 30s under the parental roof because they are never given opportunities for growth, we believe that Microsoft and the Microsoft alike companies do a great deal in saving what some people in Brussels dare to call a “lost generation”.

If only we had more YouthSpark equivalent programmes from other players of the industry! Then Mrs Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, would not have to admit the failure of the European education system to meet the ICT skill demands of the market, saying that we are expected to have a 900,000 jobs shortfall by 2015 in Europe. Well, instead of admitting our failure we believe it is more prudent to grab the industry by the hand, since the European bureaucracy is unable to create jobs from parthenogenesis, and work together to build the most competitive European youth of the future. The big question is how effectively the latter is done?

Click on the buttons below to go to the Part 1Part 2 of the Sting’s Special Edition: European Employment & Youth

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