Two days spent discussing youth employment, education, and entrepreneurship at the 7th Annual IARS International Conference.

 

Day 1 of the conference

After a beautiful performance of “Summertime” by Antiqu’e which set the tone for open, emotive discussions, Simon Israel opened the conference through discussing the current state of affairs with regards to young people in Europe. In particular, he presented information and issues relating to early school leavers and youth unemployment, which was the focus of the first day of the conference. Dr Theo Gavrielides then provided further information on IARS and the history of the conference, making the aims and desired outcomes of the conference clear to all.

Following this, Sheelagh Steward discussed etiologies of early school leaving and youth unemployment, especially the recent narrowing of social and economic options. Additionally, she discussed the impact of globalization, economic changes, and austerity on the confidence and security of young people, through chipping away social services and depriving young people of safety nets and support. She therefore posed that solutions should not solely fixate on “fixing” young people, but about creating jobs, fixing the economy, and changing policies.

The MP for Lewisham, Janet Daby, then proceeded to discuss her concerns about a no deal Brexit and especially its impact on students. She also emphasized the benefits of volunteering for young people, through building skills which improve employability. European training strategies for young people were presented next by Gisèle Evrard Markovic, including the Youth Empowerment Project and YouthPasses, which aim to build skills, confidence, and employability in young people, regardless of their background. 

After a coffee break, the various international partners of the Drop In Project presented their methods and findings which have culminated in the development of a free online platform aimed at early school leavers and drop outs, to develop their skills and competencies and so boost employability and confidence.

Networking and lunch was followed by a choice of three parallel workshops. I attended working group 3, in which Georgios Alexopoulos presented the issue of young migrant employment in the EU current resulting in social exclusion and limited economic growth. He explained the root causes of this as the mismatch between skills held by migrants and skills needed in the labor market, and under recognition of their qualifications gained abroad, both of which restrict migrant access to the labor market. Michalis Ioannou then presented Empowering You, a free online game which aims to increase the basic and transversal skills of young people through motivated, experiential learning, thereby increasing competencies and civic engagement in young people. The dual vocational education system established in Romania was presented by Ioana Barbu, where apprentices receive bursaries for up to 3 years while undergoing a combination of training periods in educational institutions and in workplaces. This benefits the student, the educational institute, and the company sponsoring the program.

After these discussions, Dr Theo Gavrielides sadly announced his plans to take a step back from being Director of IARS, with this conference being the final one chaired by him. This concluded and closed the first day of the conference.

I came away from this day with my eyes opened to the variety of problems which face young people throughout Europe, as well as their causes, which are deeply embedded in social and economic circumstances rather than personality faults in the younger generation. Furthermore, I gained awareness on the impact of culture in shaping issues facing young people, and in shaping the variety and effectiveness of potential solutions available. I was looking forward to day two.

 

Day 2 of the conference

Antiqu’e opened the day with another delightful musical performance. Dr Theo Gavrielides followed, re-opened the conference for the second day, and introduced its focus on young entrepreneurs. Fiona Reid then talked about new strategies for social impact which can act as agents for change, and Thomas Toscano presented the question of whether employability is a key driver of higher education.

The international partners of the Promyse Project proceeded to discuss the methods and findings of their collaborative work, which resulted in the development of an e-learning platform designed to support and provide potential young entrepreneurs with the information and capabilities to successfully launch their own businesses.

After a coffee break, three parallel workshops began. I attended working group 3, which discussed social enterprises in various countries. In Belgium, for example, local cinemas run by volunteers benefit workers and users of the services alike, according to Alessia Sebillo. In Greece, social enterprises such as street papers which employ homeless people and recycling agencies, work to reduce unemployment and provide community-wide benefits. Jurga Mataityė-Dir žienė presented ideal social entrepreneurship in Lithuania, in which profits from business are reinvested to assist disadvantaged individuals. This included a restaurant that employs disabled people and cleaning services to assist and socialize with the elderly.

A reintroduction from the conference chair, Dr Theo Gavrielides, followed lunch. Simon Chambers ensued with a description of social enterprises, including their beneficial outcomes for workers and audiences and their double bottom lines of gains in both finances and social impact. Nineteen year old Harry Beard then detailed his successful venture into entrepreneurship, and described the power of the internet in enabling young people to start business with low startup costs and low costs of failure. Afterwards, the EYEe project was presented by Desiree Noriega, which works to provide an ethical entrepreneurship education through an e-learning platform.

The final set of parallel workshops then began. Once again, I attended working group 3 in which Alex Bond described developing a start-up from a scientific background, namely his experience becoming cofounder and CEO of Fresh Check, a spray which changes colour when in contact with bacteria to determine whether surfaces are clean. Aidan Chase-McCarthy then led a discussion in innovation, especially in terms of youth workers, which emphasized adaptability, building on prior skills and experiences, and responding to needs of the relevant context and community. Finally, Dr Theo Gavrielides concluded and closed the conference.

Prior to this conference, I had little knowledge about social enterprises, but throughout this day I became increasingly interested in their goals and operations. Coming from a scientific background, the most pivotal idea for me was the idea that a successful enterprise could be built from a STEM background, with this niche knowledge being put to use in an unconventional way. Additionally, I found the focus of youth ability to start these enterprises very empowering. I have even begun to contemplate social enterprises I could initiate, with the newfound belief that I conceivably have the ability to do so.

Overall, I came away from this conference inspired and full of ideas for my future, and having learnt an incredible amount. I look forward to the conference next year.

 

Written by our Research and Project Intern Rebecca Rogers