On the 28th May, the French, Italian and German governments spoke out about the urgent need to combat youth unemployment, sparking action to rescue what is becoming a ‘lost generation’ of 16-24 year olds. Tonight, Wayra Enternships– currently offering paid internships in the UK and Dublin – launches in Munich, promising brand new opportunities to the unemployed youth of Germany. It’s in our startups and SMEs that hope lies, and it’s vital that these governments provide the support and resource needed for their small companies to grow.
According to EU data, 7.5 million Europeans aged 15-24 are neither in employment nor in education or training. Youth unemployment in the EU stood at 23.6 percent in January, more than twice as high as the adult rate. Our youngest and brightest are coming out of full-time education ready and raring to go, but the opportunities they so desperately seek are nowhere to be found. As Italian Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini put it yesterday:
“We have to rescue an entire generation of young people who are scared. We have the best-educated generation and we are putting them on hold. This is not acceptable”.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble concurred, stating
“We need to be more successful in our fight against youth unemployment, otherwise we will lose the battle for Europe’s unity.”
Ever since the horrors of 2008 (and, let’s be honest, 2009, 2010, 2011 – we could go on,) it’s been the newly graduated that has felt the recession hardest. Loaded up with student debt, competing with thousands for scant places on training schemes that cannot guarantee financial success, and without the resource to see alternative methods of unemployment, it’s little wonder that the past, present and indeed future continues to look bleak. Werner Hoyer, head of the EIB, put it cheerily
“Let’s be honest, there is no quick fix, there is no grand plan.”
But the interesting thing is that there is potential on the horizon. In yesterday’s conference, the idea that our startups and SME’s may hold the key to producing jobs for our disenfranchised youth came back again and again, echoing much of what Lord Young said in his May report a few weeks ago. With the prospect of earning pots of cash out of the window (depressing as that might be), more and more people are focussing their attention on genuine passions, taking the leap to start up on their own. The number of sole traders has increased massively over the past few years , now making up over 95% of the private sector business stock, showing that the potential for enterprise is certainly there. What we need to do is help nurture it.
From the state side of things, it’s encouraging to hear that the European Ministers are working on establishing a special credit line for SMEs from the European Investment bank, which will have 70 billion euro lending capacity this year, and in the UK the startup loan scheme and the growth voucher proposal all point towards the state doing as much as it can for these fledgling entrepreneurs. But it’s important not to forget the role bigger organisations can play. For example, Telefonica’s startup accelerator Wayra exists solely to provide support, funding and training to brilliant startups across Europe, allowing them to grow to the point where they require additional members of staff. Understanding that their funds may not stretch to taking someone new on full-time, they have partnered with Enternships to provide fully paid interns. For so many startups, a new person cannot prove themselves indispensable until they are fully immersed in the culture of the company – and this scheme allows that.
Having launched in the UK and Dublin, Wayra Enternships will tonight be launching in Munich, creating jobs in brilliantly exciting startups such as Becoacht, an innovative approach to sourcing sports coaching and Chuisy, a new app for discovering and sharing great local fashion. And it certainly doesn’t stop here. In just two years, 13 Wayra academies have opened in 12 countries, financing 230 startups worldwide. If we can leverage the employment possibilities within all of these fledgling companies, we can create hundreds of jobs for bright, ambitious graduates everywhere. Simon Devonshire, Director of Wayra Europe, said
“We are witnessing the birth of a new economy – the digital economy – which I believe is more significant than the birth of the industrial revolution. The partnership with Wayra and Enternships provides students with a real opportunity to get personally involved in this revolution and gain invaluable experience in working with the pioneers of this new age.”
As well as looking to the state to provide ways into employment, it’s vital we continue to champion the help bigger companies are providing to create growth in startups and SMEs. The launch tonight is just the beginning for Wayra Enternships, and hopefully for further opportunities for the youth of Europe. In this difficult time, it might be that – as Werner Hoyer puts it – there is no “grand plan”, but providing tangible, real jobs in blossoming companies is the only real way to start.
By Rajeeb Dey