Public-private partnerships are the key to bridging Europe’s skills gap

By Jean-Philippe Courtois, President, Microsoft International

The 10th Annual Meeting of the OECD LEED Forum on Partnership and Economic Development, taking place in Stockholm, Sweden this week, is shining a spotlight on the unacceptably high numbers of unemployed youth and the impact that this has on the global economy. There are 75 million unemployed or underemployed young people around the world (ILO, 2014), slowing economic recovery. This is partly because many employers believe applicants lack vocational skills like using Microsoft Office and project management. McKinsey research shows that 27% of employers cite this as a reason why they are having difficulty filling open positions (McKinsey, 2014).

Microsoft believes that collaboration between public and private organizations is the best way to help address these serious issues and build a skilled workforce that will fuel economic growth. Working together, we can do much more than either party can achieve alone. I am extremely proud that we are partnering with public sector organizations across Europe to drive programs that allow youth to develop much-needed skills.

International Girls in ICT Day, taking place across the world this week with events running from April-May, is an example of a powerful public-private sector partnership. The day, organized by ITU, the UN specialized agency for ICT, aims to promote tech careers to a new generation of girls interested in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). This is especially important considering only four in 1,000 women will eventually work within the ICT sector (European Commission, 2013).

To support this initiative, Microsoft is hosting a range of events across Western Europe from April to May. For example, in Italy we are partnering with organizations like UN Women, Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise, Fondazione Mondo Digitale and the Ministry of Education to launch the second phase of ‘Pink Cloud’, a skills development initiative that includes specialized sessions on app development and seminars on searching for employment.

By giving young women opportunities to build their ICT skillset and learn about career opportunities available in this sector, these events help build a pipeline of skilled tech talent that private and public sectors can tap into and inform the decisions of young women about their future career paths. As the European Commission predicts that there will be 900,000 vacancies for IT-related roles by 2015 (European Commission, 2013), this is a priority for all industries.

Another highly impactful partnership is Junior Achievement Youth Enterprise (JA-YE), which we have been proudly supporting through financial and technology donations and who will take part in the OECD forum this week. Reaching 3.2 million students in 39 countries in 2013, JA-YE is Europe’s largest provider of entrepreneurship education programs, uniting the private and public sectors to provide young people with the skills they need to succeed in the global economy. For example, last week, JA-YE and Microsoft launched a software business and apps development curriculum that JA-YE will use to introduce young people to IT entrepreneurship in the Nordic region.

By taking part in these programs, young people can develop the entrepreneurial skills and gain workplace experience that employers are seeking. With these experiences and skills, they are better equipped to succeed in a fiercely competitive job market. Programs like JA-YE give young people access to vocational training and opportunities, helping to stem the tide of youth unemployment and contribute to Europe’s economic recovery.

The predicted shortfall in ICT professionals is a particular focus for multi- stakeholder group the ‘Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs’, (European Commission, 2013) , with collective support pledged to programs that encourage young people to hone their computer science skills from an early age. One of our formal pledges is to co-organize Kodu Kup Europe in partnership with European Schoolnet, which expands on our YouthSpark program Kodu. This exciting pilot competition will challenge pupils and teachers from eight European countries to create and develop new thinking using Kodu technology, easy to use game creation software, and embrace coding as an enjoyable way to learn 21st Century skills. We’re thrilled to provide Kodu toolkits to all participating teachers, and the prize for the winners is an exciting and valuable three day coding camp at Microsoft in Brussels during European coding week.

The private and public sectors must continue to work together to combat youth unemployment and spur economic recovery across Europe. At Microsoft, we believe these partnerships are beneficial to all involved: public sector organizations gain the support and expertise they require to achieve greater social impact, while youth are empowered to develop sought after workplace skills and create a vibrant environment in which businesses can flourish.

My colleague, Lori Harnick, who heads up Microsoft’s Citizenship work on a global level, will highlight this when she discusses YouthSpark, our global commitment to helping youth, in a panel discussion on ‘Partnerships to Support School to Work Transitions’ at the OECD Forum on Thursday, April 24.

At Microsoft, we look forward to building similar partnerships around the world while honoring our existing commitments to help tackle the issue of high youth unemployment.

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