Skills mismatch vs. democratic imbalance

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo by Xin Li 88

Youth unemployment is one of the most serious challenges we face. In Spain, where I live, more than 50% of young people are unemployed. More than 32% are early school leavers. More than 25% live below the poverty line. The threat of a lost generation is much more acute than the risk of the Spanish banking system collapsing.

Explanations for the current situation seem to be quite straightforward. Youth suffer from a ‘skills mismatch’. This comes though various factors. For example, having studied subjects (mostly humanities) and developed skills (non technological and non scientific) that are not the ones – or are no longer the ones – that companies require. Youth unemployment can also be linked to a lack of creativity, and a lack of problem solving and team work abilities. Early school leavers are attracted by the easy money they can earn through low-skilled jobs in sectors like construction. By leaving school, they then lose opportunities to further develop skills that would have otherwise enabled them to find a job…

Solving the problem can be straightforward. Young people must be driven back onto the right track where innovation can blossom and new skills can flourish. At the same time, they must stay at school longer, go on to higher education to develop the right skills, and acquire more “real world” experience (i.e. work experience in companies during their studies).

In its recent communication ‘Rethinking Education’, the European Commission insists on the need for all European countries to develop a specific strategy for entrepreneurship education. This means concretely that ‘all young people should benefit from at least one practical entrepreneurial experience before leaving compulsory education.’

One can very well imagine the transformation that should take place in the classroom to make an ‘entrepreneurial experience’ possible (i.e. direct contact with a company that goes beyond the simple “courtesy visit”), enable youth to better understand what companies expect from them, and inspire them to create their own companies in the future.

Giving greater importance to entrepreneurship education for the purpose of job creation is not enough. Education may very well be the answer to all major societal issues. But education  and social change aren’t produced in a nutshell.

Neither unemployed nor employed youth have been asked to design the educative system they are part of. For years, teachers, policy makers, parents and companies had maintained a consensus agreement: education was delegated to the ‘educative system’, youth would enter the ‘system’ for 20 years or more and the ‘real world’ could wait for them to learn and grow.

There is a need to come to a new consensus, to rebuild a system that has the same actors but different goals and resources (mostly technological). Although this must happen on behalf of youth, it may be illusory to think it can happen without them.

It seems clear to me that nothing will be achieved in the job market without the active participation of youth themselves. Roger Hart, author of ‘Children’s Participation and creator of the Children’s Ladder of Participation (see picture), emphasises the need for youth ‘to be supported to be involved in the “governance” of the settings of their everyday lives.’  Mr Hart points out that ‘this kind of direct or participatory democracy would be a better means of fulfilling youth’s citizenship rights and would help build civil society as the base of democracy.’

The classroom on the one hand and the workplace on the other are two ‘settings of their everyday lives’ where they need to be involved. It could be useful to take a look at Roger Hart’s article 15 project in order to address the issue of youth unemployment in a creative and socially responsible way (i.e. truly enabling youth to choose for themselves what is best for their future).

Rethinking education and addressing youth unemployment in this context may mean we have to choose which aspect to address first: the skills mismatch or the democratic imbalance due to the lack of youth participation.

In other words, we may have to decide whether to build a new educative system for youth or with them.

 

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