* EU education systems too rigid, survey of businesses finds
* Skills gap will reinforce youth jobless for years to come
* Better data-sharing, lower education costs critical
By Martin Santa
BRUSSELS, Jan 14 Spain's construction sector
contracted by more than 60 percent during the economic crisis,
yet Spanish universities kept churning out architects and
construction engineers - the number has risen 174 percent since
That, according to research by management consultants
McKinsey & Company, exposes a critical source of Europe's youth
unemployment crisis: the inability of the education sector to
respond quickly and reshape the work force.
In a study published this week, based on a survey of 5,300
young Europeans, 2,600 employers and 700 technical schools,
colleges and universities, McKinsey found a severe mismatch
between graduates and the skills businesses say they need.
That exacerbates youth unemployment, which averages nearly
25 percent across the euro zone and exceeds 50 percent in some
countries including Spain, and harms growth, further denting
Europe's prospect of emerging from five years of turmoil.
"Policymakers, educators and business must all break out of
their silos and work together more closely to avert what is a
growing crisis," the consultancy said in the report, adding that
it was up to businesses to take the lead in pushing for change.
Europe's policymakers have started to act. Last year, EU
leaders established a "Youth Guarantee" scheme, setting aside up
to 8 billion euros to help provide jobs, apprenticeships,
traineeships or further education to school leavers.
The scheme is based on programmes in Finland, Austria and
Germany which have helped them achieve the lowest youth
unemployment rates in Europe. While 50 percent of young Greeks
are out of work, only 7.5 percent of German youths are.
"What we also need is better apprenticeship opportunities at
lower costs," said Mona Mourshed, a senior partner at McKinsey
and co-author of the report "Education to Employment: Getting
Europe's Youth into Work".
Another issue is languages. Spanish students may be
graduating with good skills, but they can't easily be put to use
in Spain. A second language would allow them to find work abroad
or with an international company at home.
While aware of the critical link between education and
employers' needs, the European Commission, the EU executive, has
struggled to shape policy in an area where national governments,
not Brussels, still bear the main responsibility.
"This is crucial if we want to place education for
employability at the core of Europe's policies - a point that I
have been making for years," said Androulla Vassiliou, the EU
commissioner responsible for education, culture and youth.
"In spite of the high number of job seekers, many employers
are unable to fill vacancies because they cannot find people
with the right skills."
With the euro zone and broader EU economy showing signs of
recovery after years of low growth or recession, the moment is
ripe to ensure that students learn the right skills for the jobs
that will become available in the years ahead, the study said.
"Students need more and better information about different
career paths and they need to be motivated to use it," the study
said, highlighting concerns about higher education becoming more
expensive and a growing bias against basic vocational training.
"Youth unemployment is a profound challenge for Europe and
the financial crisis has made it worse."