Digital skills crucial in closing 'opportunity divide' for EU's youth unemployed

Reforming education systems and increasing digital skills learning opportunities will help prepare young Europeans for the jobs of both today and tomorrow, argues Microsoft's Afke Schaart.


By Afke Schaart

27 Sep 2013

The European commission warns that by 2015 Europe will lack up to 900,000 ICT professionals, a shortfall that will be aggravated by a projected decline in computer science graduates.

The significant number of unfilled jobs in the European ICT sector is even more shocking if we consider the staggering levels of youth unemployment across the continent. Over 5.5 million young EU citizens are currently unemployed, almost one young European in four. In some EU member states, such as Greece, Spain and Croatia, the youth unemployment level exceeds 55 per cent.

This situation is a result not only of the economic downturn experienced in these member states, but also of an opportunity divide - a gap between those who have the access, skills, and opportunities to be successful and those who do not. The question that policymakers and industry leaders must now tackle is: how do we close this gap during times of economic hardship?

The European commission's recently announced "opening up education" initiative is clearly a step in the right direction. It establishes three core areas of action: improving teaching methods, providing digital content for students and teachers, and upgrading ICT infrastructure.

Young Europeans have got talent. But often they lack the digital skills they need to excel in the jobs of today and tomorrow. Reforming European education systems and increasing adaptive-learning components will help close the opportunity divide.

Technology is both the key and the vehicle for making this happen. We have a common interest to create and shape an education experience that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation amongst Europe's youth.

It is clear that ICT can upgrade the quality of education in several ways - including more personalised learning programmes, which would address the individual needs and interests of students, widening access to education through internet and cloud computing as well as facilitating global collaboration among students through communication platforms such as Skype.

And support for European youth should not be limited to words alone. This week I am proud that Microsoft celebrated the one year milestone of our global YouthSpark initiative, which aims to create opportunities for 300 million youth worldwide by 2015, including 69 million young people across Europe.

In one year alone we have connected 22.3 million young Europeans with greater opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship through specific programmes tailored to help youth excel in these crucial areas.

I fully agree with digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, who emphasised that the successful modernisation of European education requires close cooperation between all relevant stakeholders.

That's why Microsoft joined the EU's grand coalition for digital jobs, pledging to help provide an early career lever for European youth into digital jobs by increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships and internships by 50 per cent over three years.

[pullquote]Overall, we need to create a level playing field for young Europeans, by offering them digital skills which will lay the foundations for their professional success[/pullquote]. The issue is urgent: the European commission estimates that by 2020 as much as 90 per cent of jobs in the EU will require digital skills.

Closing the gap between demand and supply of these skills is a challenging goal which cannot be achieved by a single government, sector or organisation alone. Decision makers from the public and private sector must join forces to pool their resources and expertise to help pupils, students and teachers to fully benefit from the digital revolution.

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