Can Digital Competence Save Youth From Unemployment?

The European economic crisis that started in late 2009 gave way to high rates of unemployment, especially among young people. Beginning this year, the European Commission estimated that over 5 million young people aged 15-24 were unemployed. Youth unemployment has been in the spotlight of European policy makers and governmental institutions trying to solve the enigma by proposing numerous actions to tackle unemployment that is part of European recession.

Almost every second youth in Greece or Spain are unemployed. Similar numbers are exhibited in Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, and Portugal. Other European countries struggle with over 20% of unemployment while the EU average still stands at 20.7% as of June 2015. What makes it so difficult for young people to find jobs? Are there not enough jobs available? Are youth not competent for available vacancies in the labor market?

Companies go online – jobs go digital

A significant part of business has moved online and having e-commerce whenever possible is essential to many companies and organizations. In addition, a mobile presence is evolving as another main channel to attract customers, to get them to buy services or simply access information anywhere, anytime. An estimated 3 billion mobile users are counted today. This is almost half of the planet’s population.

That being said, many changes have been brought into certain job functions, for instance, marketing and communications now requires an extensive digital skill set. Additionally, we have seen new job titles springing up like mushrooms after the rain: starting with community and social media managers moving to SEO consultants, web analytics developers, mobile marketers and growth hackers. These are just some of the “digital” positions that are in demand and sought after by many employers. Yet do we know of any universities offering programs aligning with these positions?


Are youngsters prepared?

Naturally, new jobs require new skills. Recent numbers reveal that 95% of 16-24 year olds in Europe are regular internet users. In some countries 9 out of 10 youngsters use a mobile device to connect to the internet on the go. But, people mistakenly think the youth of our generation have the right skills simply by surfing the Internet or knowing how to use social media networks. Very often young people are labelled as “digital natives”, but will everyday ICT skills acquired through social networks help them in a workplace?

A lot of research has recently taken place in different countries to determine the level of digital competence among youth. One study shows that 42% of young Italians weren’t aware of security risks when connecting to Wi-Fi. When it comes to more technical competences, 19 % of young Europeans were reported to have used a computer programming language. Only 7% of young Austrians have very good computer skills. Another survey among kids aged 9-10 suggests that two in three kids cannot say they know more about the Internet than their parents. So this leads me to think that educational systems and current school curriculum must be revised and improved to be able to prepare a growing generation for new jobs like SEO, coding or mobile marketing.


Changes in education are necessary

There is no single solution to youth unemployment in Europe. As much as it’s the responsibility of any young person to work out the right competences and get ready for the labour market, it’s also the educational system that needs to provide kids with the first knowledge of ICT and even coding. It is important that schools encourage their students to choose studies that are adequate to the demands dictated by the technological revolution and current job markets.

Yet, it’s not only about introducing new courses as part of curriculum. Current teachers need to be trained in the latest ICT skills too – and taught how to make ICT classes attractive to kids, both boys and girls. Besides, the gender stereotype that ICT or coding is for boys needs to be overcome. The first place to start is at home.

All eyes are turning to coding, which is seen as a trans-discipline that can boost both teaching and learning. For many years coding skills were wrongly perceived as something useful for IT professions only. In fact, knowing how to code helps you understand how the modern world works given the increasing number of automatized processes and services around us, and machines and devices that we use at home. Introducing the basics of ICT in schools isn’t sufficient anymore. Kids must be taught more and taught how to put their coding skills into practice. While schools are slowly awakening and catching up, after-school clubs and volunteer movements like CoderDojo, Rails Girls or are patching the hole. What is next?




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  1. Claude Forthomme

    Thanks for drawing attention to this continuing drama that affects all generations (the parents too!). This is a problem in America as well. Bernie Sanders made waves two days ago when he said that unemployment among African-American youth reached 51% and Hispanics 36% – numbers about as bad as in Europe! And according to the International Business Times, the world faces a “tsunami of youth unemployment” in the coming decades, as you can see in this Thingser post

    • Ilona Griniute

      Hi Claude, thank you for sharing some more global insights into the topic. Indeed these numbers around the world don’t look promising yet… Do you know of any concrete measures that the US government is taking to tackle this problem?

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