The world of work is rapidly changing, and business and academia must respond quickly or they will find themselves left behind. This was the message from a conference in Brussels showcasing the results of the European Pact for Youth, a unique partnership launched two years ago to improve collaboration between business and education communities.
The conclusions provided the focus for the one-day European Business Education Summit organised by CSR Europe and the European Commission on 23 November. It formed part of the wider European Vocational Skills Week, promoting vocational education and training.
CSR Europe executive director, Stefan Crets, said the Pact had reached one of its main targets; creating 160,000 business-education partnerships across Europe ranging from small-scale collaborations, such as SMEs engaging with local schools to pan-European efforts bringing together industry and education to promote science, technology and engineering.
During a concluding session on ‘better education, better business’, Crets said, “We have met our targets of the European Pact for Youth, but the work doesn’t stop.”
Next, member states need to implement three key policy proposals, including “mainstreaming entrepreneurship education in learning. What we have to realise – quickly - is that the work is changing. Digitisation, robotics, electrification and artificial intelligence are transforming the work environment.”
He continued, “We have to ask ourselves if we are ready for such massive changes. Currently, the answer is ‘no’.”
Gaston Khoury, Western Europe regional sales Vice-President for Huawei, explained his company’s role in helping this transition. In the 15 years since its launch, the Chinese company now employs 12,000 people in Europe and is actively looking to provide similar opportunities to more young people.
He said, “We face increasing digitisation in our lives; our young people need the right digital skills to be able to adapt. There will be thousands of vacancies in the digital sphere in 2020. This is one reason why we launched the ‘Seeds for the Future’ programme a few years ago.”
He continued, “This is not simply training; it is a way of impressing on the young the realities and importance of ICT. The programme lets young people visit our HQ in China, gaining an insight into the ICT domain. At Huawei, we are seeking plug the gaps between education and business.”
Three participants in the Huawei ‘Seeds for the future’ programme explained their experiences. Student Alessandro Gattolin, said, “A few months ago, I was a telecommunications and internet engineering student at the Polytechnic University of Milan. Today, I am a Huawei employee, working on software products, aiming to become a software and cloud solution architect thanks to Huawei’s Seeds for the Future programme, Huawei Italy and the Italian Ministries of Education and Economic Development.”
Lindsay Kempen, a 21-year-old Dutch computer science student, explained how she had been able to “directly apply” her recent experience on a ‘Seeds for the Future’ training visit to China.
“It helped me become a facilitator for new international students of my subject, making them feel more at home. Huawei provided me with an outstanding experience; cultural business programmes add hugely to one’s education.”
Another benefactor of the Huawei scheme was Antonia Daderman. “My two-week ‘Seeds for the Future’ trip to China was amazing. I learned so much in such a short time about a new culture and enjoyed ICT training from one of the biggest companies in the world.”
Juan Antonio Zufiria, general manager of IBM Europe, also spoke at the conference. He predicted that, in the future, 50 per cent of jobs would be done by robots, adding, “the Pact partnership is a real breakthrough and will reach up to five million young people. It is just the start.”
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker heralded the success of the Pact in meeting its ‘highly ambitious’ targets.
“This conference is an opportunity to showcase the results of this initiative but we also have to realise that this is not the end but the start of what we are trying to achieve. We must remember that - for the majority of today’s children - the jobs they will have do not yet exist. In future, young people will have to work for longer and update their skills throughout their careers. When you consider that, currently only 11 per cent of 25 - 64-year-olds do any lifelong learning; we are not quite ready for this.”
In another keynote address, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani explained that with some 20 million young people out of work in Europe, “we need to invest more in education.”
Valdis Dombrovskis, Commissioner for the euro and social dialogue, said forging closer partnerships between education and business must be the “new norm.”