Wednesday 7 October 2015

What employers are doing to fight youth unemployment?

Peter Vogel
Peter Vogel is an entrepreneur, consultant and researcher at the University of St Gallen. 

He is the founder of Jobzippers and Entrepreneurs’ Ship that helps highlight youth employment issues and solutions. He is the author of the just-published book ”Generation Jobless – Turning the Youth Employment Crisis into Opportunity” .

MCE: Generation Jobless is a huge issue that just isn’t going to go away. If you were a business leader what do you think could be your (no matter how small) contribution to helping people into real work?

Peter Vogel (PV): Employers play a key role in tackling youth unemployment and there are many different things that can and have to be done on that front. However, the issue is everything but straightforward and solutions always require an orchestrated effort from various stakeholders, including employers but also public policy, educational institutions and of course young people, too.
In ‘Generation Jobless?’ I discuss dozens of examples of what employers are doing to fight youth unemployment. Overall, one can sum them up into the following action items:
Employers must
  1.      Properly think through the actual ‘business case’ for hiring young people and balance the advantages and disadvantages. Overall, when taking a long-term perspective, they will come to the conclusion that it pays off to engage in young recruiting rather sooner than later. 
  2.     Assume their responsibilities in preparing youth for the world of work by closely collaborating with the education system, providing internship and mentoring opportunities, giving lectures and talks in school, attending career fairs and other career-related events and open up their doors for young people. 
  3.     Build a global skills supply chain in order to recruit for tomorrow’s needs instead of yesterday’s needs. 
  4.     Ensure that they build adequate vocational training opportunities to counteract the increasing academization and help build relevant skills and capabilities on the job.
  5.      Build a workforce management system that allows them to effectively work with four or five generations of employees.
  6.     Ensure that there are sufficient youth-compatible jobs available in their companies, taking into account the Digital Natives’ characteristics and expectations from work. 
  7.     Ensure that tomorrow’s leaders (i.e., the talents from today’s youth) find a stimulating and satisfying work environment in order to ensure continuity when the older managing employees are retiring. This needs to be done by building a 21st century workplace.
MCE: You talk a lot about entrepreneurs and the vast reservoir of creative energy. How do we promote that in the school system to encourage people to try out new ideas and take risks?

PV: Entrepreneurship is considered one of the most promising avenues to solving the current youth labor market crisis. Why? Because it is one of the main drivers of innovation, economic and societal development and job creation.
As I argue in ‘Generation Jobless?’, the promotion of youth entrepreneurship is essential to tackling youth unemployment, because it…

  •  …creates employment opportunities for those that start the businesses as well as those that they employ, particularly because young entrepreneurs are more prone to hiring other young people
  •  …brings back alienated and marginalized youth into the labor market
  •  …helps address socio-psychological issues arising from unemployment
  •  …helps youth develop new skills and professional experience that, in turn, can enhance their general employability
  •  …revitalizes local communities through new products and services
  • …capitalizes on the youth’s particular responsiveness to new trends and opportunities
  • …keeps young and otherwise idle young people occupied, which is always better than not having anything to do leaving them feeling useless and without hope.
Promoting an entrepreneurial mindset early on in life – at school or at home – is the key to success when it comes to boosting youth entrepreneurship. It therefore also cannot be considered a short-term solution to the crisis but rather a long-term strategic shift of the labor market.

To foster an entrepreneurial mindset, we need to…

  • …make room for creativity and inspiration – at home, in school, and elsewhere.
  • …give our kids the opportunity to develop financial literacy in a fun and playful way.
  • …help them jump over their shadow and pro-actively engage in conversations.
  • …foster their problem-solving skills by brainstorming solutions to their problems.
  • …turn learning into a fun and playful setup to acquire important skills.
  • …let them take responsibility and make decisions.
  • …help them experience risk and their boundaries.
  •  …allow our children to be critical about the status quo and come up with better ideas.

MCE:   For every well-educated kid out there, you’ll find another nine who are in the wrong place with the wrong qualifications at the wrong time. How do we get better at predicting where the new jobs will come from?

PV: Overall, we can say that the level of education is less an issue than the “match” between what is being taught and what is being looked for on the labor market. According to UNESCO, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for Tertiary Education in Europe went up from around 50% in 1999 to above 70% in 2013. Of course this picture looks different in developing countries, but even on a global level it went up from 20% to over 30%.

Hence, in order to become better at predicting where new jobs will come from, employers need to spend significant time on predicting their future skills requirements – that is build a global skills supply chain. At the same time, the interaction between the employers and the education system must become more frequent and relevant. Unfortunately, we can observe a drift into theory at academic institutions, which further reduces the chances of teaching practical and relevant things. It is therefore even more important that employers get active and try to connect into the education system to shape what is being taught.

MCE:    And a simple question. If you are 16 years old what do you do to give yourself a better chance of climbing on the career ladder and being a success? What experience and what qualifications will win through?

PV: There are of course many evident steps that can be taken to enhance one’s employability, including internships, language courses, exchange programs, etc. However, this is a rather blunt advice that doesn’t seem to have done too much in helping the Gen Y and Gen Z in getting ready for the world of work. First of all, because there are not enough youth-specific job opportunities and second, because today’s youth has fundamentally different expectations from work than those 40 or 50 years ago. Hence, the best thing that young people can do is to try and develop a clear understanding of what they specifically want to do with their life and which career path is a realistic and interesting option for them – corporate, entrepreneurial, academic, political, etc. The better one gets at understanding one’s goals in life, the easier it gets to align the specific next steps to reach that goal. The current youth seems to have a particularly hard time to express their goals and ambitions. 


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