This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium – Brussels  The start of the new year is always a time to reflect and think about what the past year has brought and what the new year could bring. It is a time to stop, to take stock of our priorities and making plans for the future. Last year was a turbulent year for the EU.

Europe has been beset by so many crises affecting its stability, credibility, security and democratic quality. Crises, however, can sometimes help us see things differently and often in the right way. If we want to overcome the challenges we face, we should then draw lessons from our failures and come up with new approaches and solutions. And this should also be the way how to address one of the most serious crisis persisting in Europe for several years already – the high unemployment that particularly affects young people.

As part of my job, I meet many young people across Europe to discuss their accomplishments as well as their concerns and fears. On these occasions, it is of great concern to hear that young people nowadays fear most about their future, in particular their career perspectives. Many of them do not believe that they would be able to find a job after graduation.

This is worrying and sad at the same time, but unfortunately, the reality. The youth unemployment rate in Europe is at an alarming level, with one in four young people being out of work. For me, employability of youngsters is one the biggest challenges for the next decennials and I do believe it is due to a considerable big skills mismatch.

The fact we are entering new economic order is unquestionable. And this raises an important point. As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too. But how do we respond? Are we giving young people the right skills? Do we ask employers what skills they look for? Do we combine enough theoretical skills with practical ones?  Are we giving young people the opportunity to learn, for example, how to set up and run their own businesses? Or do we make enough effort to attract them to technological and scientific fields of education? Research studies show we do not.

Around 40% of the EU population lack a sufficient level of digital skills. On the other hand, more than 40% of employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills for growth and innovation. Businesses are struggling more and more to tackle the widening disparity between staffing needs and qualified applicants.

Experts suggest that this skills gap could impact economic and corporate growth for the next 15 years! At the same time, a large number of Europeans, work in jobs that do not match their talents and aspirations. Finally, there are also very few people who have the entrepreneurial mind-set and competences to start their own business and who manage to keep adapting to evolving requirements of the labour market.

The situation on European labour market has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The demands of globalisation and the shortage of appropriately skilled labour across many industries is emerging as a significant and complex challenge to Europe’s growth and future. We are now living in a fast paced technological era where every skill that we teach in schools becomes obsolete after several years due to growing technological advances. Moreover, given the fast technological development, new jobs are being created.

I am happy that in recent years there has been increased attention given to the issue of youth unemployment at the European level. In order to address the skills shortage, the European Commission adopted in June the New Skills Agenda for Europe. The proposal is now also being negotiated in the European Parliament where I was appointed its rapporteur. And as a rapporteur, I will certainly continue in promoting appropriate policies and recommendations based on my own professional experience.

Having spent most of my working life in business allowed me to observe both sides and how the situation is perceived quite differently in politics. I realized, for example, that the lack of sufficient dialogue between those two sides can negatively affect policies and cause skills mismatch problems and distorted anticipation of skills needs.

And that is what we have to change – because how can we anticipate future skills if we don’t listen to businesses and all relevant stakeholders? Every policy must be based on evidence from practice, with decision-makers needing data to design policy, and not the other way around.

When teaching, we should now focus on developing transversal, digital, soft and STEM skills, but also managerial and entrepreneurial skills in young people as early as possible. However to nurture these skills requires a rethinking of our education systems. We have to enhance the employability of young people via practical experiences, access to workplaces and meeting their future employers. We have to change our mindset and make vocational education and crafts attractive again for them.  Also to encourage them to learn more languages which can help them to perform jobs across borders and boost mobility to respond to skills shortage.

It might take two to tango but it takes much more to give today´s young people the workplace skills they will need. For me, personally, what is probably most important is the motivation of young people. For me it is crucial to make concrete steps to motivate them to be responsible for their future career and encourage them to work towards their dreams.

I am convinced young people do not necessarily have to hold the best degree to succeed in today’s world, but they do need to have the best attitude! Let’s help them thrive!