EU must do better on entrepreneurship

Written by Anthea McIntyre on 31 July 2018 in Opinion

The key to fighting unemployment is to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in our young people, writes Anthea McIntyre.

Anthea McIntyre | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

When it comes to tackling the deeply-entrenched problem of youth unemployment, there is much to ponder for the European Parliament, the other EU institutions and Europe as a whole.

The key is to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in our young people - through education, training and apprenticeships. That way, we can help them eventually to create their own businesses, new enterprises and job opportunities, even where the older generation is failing them and everyone else.

With youth unemployment in some parts of the EU running above 50 per cent, a solution cannot come too soon. That is why I was pleased to take part in two important discussions in the Parliament, which may have been overlooked by some in the run-up to the summer break and the long recess.


One was a conference on the future of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which I was honoured to host on behalf of the European Small Business Alliance to mark its 20th anniversary. 

I was keen to remind participants that if small businesses were the life blood of any economy, it was the training and development of young people which provided the fresh blood and fresh ideas to ensure renewal and progress. Without them, the brightest new enterprise will ultimately fade and die, while others will never be born at all.

The second event was an exchange of views in the employment committee with Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice-President for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness. 

As Conservative employment spokesperson in the European Parliament, I was keen to sound out Katainen on his commitment to making young enterprise integral to the learning and training process. As agriculture spokesperson, I was equally eager to secure reassurances about rural economies and the future of young people outside our towns and cities.

On both fronts there were encouraging responses. I told the Commissioner that it was vital we concentrate on skills, education and entrepreneurship, and he agreed. 

To illustrate my point, I recalled a meeting of Parliament’s science and technology options assessment panel where the importance was stressed of teaching people critical thinking. One person pointed out that it was also important just to teach people to think.

There are nearly two million unfilled vacancies in the EU, and in IT and computing skills alone the shortfall is 700,000. Predictions are that 90 per cent of jobs created between now and 2020 will require medium or highly-skilled qualifications. 

We need to be doing more with apprenticeships - particularly teaching entrepreneurial skills - but that must be building on similar training right through school.

The UK’s Young Enterprise Scheme is a good example. It is a charity which works with young people to develop the employability skills that employers demand, by delivering enterprise and financial education programmes in schools, colleges and universities.

I wanted to know what initiatives the Commission had for fostering partnerships between businesses and research centres and universities to enable EU citizens to access IT-related, energy-related and hi-tech manufacturing jobs.  

I also wanted to know what could be done for rural employment. I noted that there had been a decline in agricultural employment as technology was brought in; yet one countryside estate I recently visited in my constituency, employs more people now than 200 years ago. That is because of diversification and bringing in new skills.

Commissioner Katainen seemed to get it. He agreed that apprenticeships should be used more widely as one of the most dynamic ways to organise vocational training.

He criticised an attitude in “some places” which rated entrepreneurship as a second best - something to consider for people who could not do anything better. In truth, he said, young people were looking for jobs that had meaning and entrepreneurship was a way of turning the activity they might consider meaningful into a profitable enterprise.  

Entrepreneurship should be better incorporated into the curriculum and public and private sectors, along with other stakeholders, should complement one another in providing people opportunities to upscale, he said. The public education sector could not be left to address the issue on its own.

On rural enterprise he was equally clear - there must be equal access to investment and training opportunities, particularly with regard to digital connectivity.

I can hear rural communities and young people all over Europe saying “Hear hear” to that.


About the author

Anthea McIntyre (ECR, UK) is a member of Parliament's employment and social affairs committee

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