Written by Kassandra Petersen Vice-President-Director of Public Affairs Policy, Communication and Alumni Management
Microsoft Innovation Center, Brussels: On the 20th of November JADE – European Confederation of Junior Enterprises, organised Generations Club 2015 in Brussels under the theme “An Intergenerational Action Plan on the Entrepreneurial Education & Skills Gap Challenge in Europe”. With this JADE stronger than ever tackled a topic that every student and soon-to-be graduate fears while the youth unemployment rate is barely changing since its peak during the economic crisis. Based on JADE’s Generations Report of 2014 – a youth perspective on entrepreneurial skills and JADE’s commitment to the Educational Transformation Agreement signed in 2014 with Microsoft, JADE decided to create in this year a concrete action plan succeeded by several follow-up meetings throughout the next year with its different stakeholders in order to create a truly sustainable solution aiming to help transform Europe into an entrepreneurial society.
The participants, 33 in numbers, focused during this invitation-only event on three of Europe’s hot topics: skills mismatch, youth unemployment, and entrepreneurial education. In interactive and cross-generational exchange sessions, aimed to build bridges between the senior and the junior generation in order to foster an entrepreneurial culture, JADE gave a forum to the youth’s and senior’s prospects, trying to diminish the generation gap.
In the unique venue of the Microsoft Innovation Center, the seniors’ view was being brought to the table by representatives from Covestro, Oracle and Microsoft, representatives of entrepreneurship education programmes such as the Entrepreneurship Experience Programme and the Entrepreneurship Academy, and dedicated members of the European Commission, as Mr. Ballesteros (Head of Startup Europe), and Eurochambres. The junior generation was being represented by some of the largest youth organisations in Europe, in particular ELSA, AEGEE, EPSA, AIESEC and JADE itself, in order to combine the view of a truly representative scope of Europe’s young people.
The half-day event was, after the opening ceremony led by the organizer of the event, JADE’s Vice President Kassandra Petersen, divided into 2 sessions.
The first session consisted in a roundtable discussion about “The Education & Skills Gap Challenge in Europe – What do students and companies truly need nowadays?”, moderated by Mr. Arnaldo Abruzzini, Secretary General of Eurochambres and part of JADE’s Advisory Board.
The youth organisations present, agreed that the inflexibility of the current educational system is fostering the so called skills gap by not providing students with the skills they would need for a smooth entry into the labour market. Mr. Schaubacher, representative to the EBBF, emphasized that this is the reason why organisations such as AIESEC or JADE are inevitable for the needed change in society. In the digital age, society needs to be prepared for a continuous change. It is not about getting the most information by education, but teaching young people where to get them and how to use them in the most effective way. The youth organisations stated that university does provide them with basic knowledge, the so called hard skills, but it is on them to gain the practical experience and the not less important needed soft skills through internships and active involvement in the organisation.
“Knowledge and competences are two different things”, stressed Mrs. Cláudia Sarrico, OECD. EntEx Program Manager Alice Vandekerkhove agreed and added that there is a lot of knowledge amongst young people but a lot of young people choose their path based on what they like, rather on what they can do with it after, which hasn’t been the case for the former generation. She went on that it should not be expected that the rigid private sector will change, but it is on the young generation to do so. Mr. John Di Stefano, Independent Advisor/ Entrepreneur Academy, emphasized that a person with an entrepreneurial mind-set is someone that understand this concept and rather goes where his/her skills match instead.
JADE intervened by debating that even while 40 percent of the enterprises in the EU regions and sectors claim that they can not meet the needs for labour, the skills gap is existing due to the false role models presented to the young people. Following a career as an engineer seems way less attractive and the best companies presented to students are not industries rather than consultancy. Furthermore the mind-set about somebody not being competent enough, even if he showed ambition by self-acquiring those skills on its own or through informal educational measurements, needs to change. Often informal education steps in where formal education reaches its limits. Pablo Hernandez, External Relations Director of AEGEE, added that it should be the tasks of public institutions to inform about such useful tools and measures for the labour market, even outside university education.
Moreover JADE proposed that during the next months, a continuous workshop/follow-up meeting could be developed to foster the recognition of a list of soft skills developed by young organisations, and having them recognised by the private sector.
Covestro’s Richard Northcote, on another hand, motivated young people to see the aging workforce as a chance, saying that there are huge opportunities yet to come for them. The private sector is willing to make investments on curious and courageous young people thinking outside of the box.
On the question why only a few young people decide to become entrepreneurs later in their life while having the educational background, Marek Škultéty of ELSA stated: “Being an employee is being socially desirable. But sometimes creating your own enterprise is easier.”
JADE summed up the first session, stating that we can not change the current education system but each one of us should start by asking him-/herself what his organisation/ entity provides in practical terms in order to tackle this problem.
The second session moderated by Mrs. Kader Sevinç, EU Representative of CHP/ Founder and Manager of the Turkish Coffee Briefings, on “Confronting the skills mismatch in Europe – transforming Europe in an entrepreneurial society” in form of group discussion. The session was opened, with a view on the previous session, through a concrete question on what each stakeholder at the table provides on entrepreneurship programs in order to develop their members/ employees soft skills and foster an entrepreneurial mind-set.
Mr. Schaubacher stressed that building up a business should be already enforced on a secondary education level. Mr. Di Stefano added correspondingly that how to handle money should be taught from early on. Nevertheless, on the one hand, there are so many tools for students in order to decide on what they really want, on the other hand, having a university education is not enough anymore, and you need to keep learning.
Talking about gaining relevant practical experience Mr. Northcote made clear: “We need to be careful about expectations. The experience you encounter on the way (…), treat them as experience, don’t treat them as expertise.”
Following, AIESEC’s Daniela Dandes, gave an example that people often come to their interviews, who do not necessarily understand how the labour market works, but also companies have sometimes the expectation to recruit the perfect person for an open position within an incredibly short timeframe. Ms. Vanderkerkhove expressed her astonishment by the fact that an applicant would ask the HR manager what he would get if he worked in the company stating “How are you more special than your neighbour? People need to be more proactive”. Mr. Northcote described it very figuratively by using the metaphor: “If you talk about yourself all the time, you are not going to have the second date (…) understand what you want to get into.” The participants agreed unilaterally, that you need to understand what is expected from you. A simple but effective solution, all stakeholders approved, is clear communication between the job market, recruiters in particular, and the young generation.
To enable this communication, JADE proposed a mentoring program that allows us to put young people in continuous contact with professionals in order to foster ongoing skills exchange in between generations and hands-on training. Mr. Gert De Laet, Senior Director/ Program Management of the Orcale Academy, stressed that Oracle offers free IT skills courses as well as such on specific topics of entrepreneurship, while Startup Europe’s Isidro Laso Ballesteros, spoke of the importance of an university acting as a facilitator on behalf of Junior Enterprises, providing an ecosystem in which young people should not be afraid to fail. He started this European initiative a few years ago, out of the need for a network in Europe who provides a start-up friendly ecosystem. According to Ms. Vanderkerkhove, young people nowadays have the utopic expectation that being an entrepreneur is a simply ways of being your own boss and “having the life of your dream”, which often does not reflect reality. Mr. Hernandez added: “A big problem is the lack of independence of young students and graduates, and the lack of proactivity. They want to be employees”. JADE reflects that a high percentage of people in their network become entrepreneurs, but the number could be higher by providing a more favourable environment. So we should rather discuss on how to get there. EPSA and JADE both shared their great experience with their train-the-trainer programs in order to foster creative thinking, leadership, and conflict management.
After all, we can sum up that JADE’s Generations Club in its 9th edition, was truly intercultural, interactive and intergenerational which it aimed for and will go on aiming, by its follow-up meetings, in order to build powerful synergies between different generations at the heat of policy making and the need for a sustainable and innovative future of entrepreneurial education in Europe.
We would like to thank all our participants for their time.