I am beginning a short adventure in Western Europe. So, I thought I would try to learn a bit about my environment. Things are very different here. The economics, education, families, are very different. Locals do not blink to pay several dollars for a small plastic bottle of Coke or Dr. Pepper or a month’s rent for a nice dinner. The very fabric of the workplace is also very different. The undercurrent often seems to be that Europeans are superior to Americans and that we are a couple of generations behind them socially. But I found one area that we should try to avoid.
Please do not interpret anything herein as a criticism of life here. People have been very warm, inviting and friendly and I think I am going to love my adventure. That is not the point. The point that I hope to make is that we, as Leaders can learn from our Western European colleagues as we try to assist and support our younger generation towards greatness.
I want to share some recent research that caught my attention studying why the younger generation and employers are so mismatched. Some of the findings suggest ways that you and I should be focusing on our efforts to mentor, lead and support the younger ones around us.
Here is the proposition:
The problem of youth unemployment in the European Union is not new. Youth unemployment has been double or even triple the rate of general unemployment in Europe for the last 20 years. The events of the past few years have dramatically exacerbated it, however: 5.6 million young people are unemployed across Europe, and a total of 7.5 million are neither being educated nor are they working. Moreover, while young people are eager to work, more than half of those without jobs say they simply can’t find one—all while businesses across Europe insist they struggle to find young people with the skills they need.
This sounds terrible to me. There are areas where things may be slightly better, but there are areas where things are much worse. For example, in Italy, the unemployment rate for people under 24 years of age is more that 40%. The root cause for this appears to be that young men and women simple do not have the skill sets and basic knowledge employers are looking for. Why, and, why has this persisted for so long?
It appears that certain basic competencies are lacking in European youth.
A person probably needs only 2 or 3 basic skill sets to be an attractive employment candidate (good communication skills, an openness and willingness to learn, dedication to work hard may be just a few). Having them is critical to develop and enhance the leadership skills employers demand. Even with sound skills, European youth face other practical challenges. The increase in the participation rate in a demand-constrained environment means greater competition for jobs for younger people, who are disadvantaged by their lack of proven experience. Meanwhile, labor-market regulations that discourage hiring and firing, which are common in Europe, make it even more difficult for youth to step onto the first rung of the employment ladder.
Apparently, educators are not attuned to the demands of employers and are teaching students the right skills. About 35 percent of employers feel that graduates are being readied to join the work force. One observers shows that the European work force has it aces and rock stars, but that on the whole, the work force is composed of meanderers, coasters, non-believers and dreamers that make up about 55% of the overall work force. Yikes. Are America’s youth following in these footsteps? (By comparison, only about 10% are high achievers.)
Leadership Voices has been a strong advocate of the important role mentors and leaders as role models for our young people. Putting this into the parlance of this piece, mentors and leaders owe it to our young people to make sure that they do not follow Europe in this way.
Just how do we expect our youth to overcome a $20 Trillion debt, declining test scores, a depressed job market (and the extreme competition for the few jobs that are out there) without mentors and leaders? I am not just talking about mentoring and leading our immediate families, as we owe it to all of the young people we interface with to serve as role models to be in a position to excel.
I think there is hope. For once, I disagree with Dilbert, leadership and mentoring should not come down to guesswork.
Mentors and leaders can work with education providers to focus more on what happens to students after they leave school. Specifically, they should track graduates’ employment and their job satisfaction. To improve student prospects, education providers could work more closely with employers to make sure they are offering courses that really help young people prepare for the workplace.
Employers cannot wait for the right applicants to simply show up at their doorsteps. Mentors and leaders can work with employers and education providers to work closely to design curricula that fit business needs; employers may even participate in teaching, by providing instructors. They might also consider increasing the availability of work placements and opportunities for practical learning. Larger enterprises may be able to go further, by setting up training academies to improve required skills for both themselves and their suppliers.
America’s youth do not have follow suit with their Europeans counterparts. The future will be challenging, but, with the help of mentors and leaders assisting them, our youth can be and will be successful.