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The demographic clock is ticking on both sides of the Mediterranean – from an aging workforce on one end to a workforce surplus on the other. Yet whatever the demographic dynamics, the Mediterranean space is facing an incredible challenge: providing a safe, buoyant and prosperous future for its youth which would benefit its societies, their economic development and progress.
One cannot think of building a thriving future for the youth without addressing two main challenges: the first one is education, and how to prepare young people to the jobs of tomorrow that do not exist today, and the second one is building the economy of tomorrow: the digital economy, the fastest growing sector worldwide, the main driver of innovation and economic growth for the next 50 years.
Both challenges are in fact interrelated and the framework of the education challenge we are facing is best defined in relation to entrepreneurship. The skills and values of entrepreneurship are very clear: problem solving, critical thinking, team work and risk taking. Needless to say that these traits are very different from the skills provided by the current educational systems and programs that are in dire need of reform. Reform is always more easily said than done but this one is not administrative or curricular: it involves a change of attitude and mentality and involving the entire community behind it not just the educational institutions.
Over 40 percent of entrepreneurs in the region identify finding the right skills as the top challenge in their hiring process, and most of these skills are soft skills like the ones mentioned above – critical thinking, autonomy in their work, team spirit. As Friedman puts it: ‘the world is flat’, and as a result knowledge is no longer a competitive edge. Perseverance, curiosity, risk taking are. So how do you build these skills into a school curriculum and into the local mentality? By rewarding the youth who use them and having schools that engage the youth into community building activities making the school at the heart of the community. Human and social engagement within the school and with the community, is often critical not only to build entrepreneurial skills into young adults but also to give them a sense of purpose.
One such example of engagement is a closer relationship with the private sector and a tighter bond with companies, startups and the job market, especially for secondary school students, technical schools and universities. While there is no recipe for success, many experiences of private sector involvement in schools has led to a good match between educational expectations and employment realities. Young people can be very creative in making ends meet as long as they are given the right opportunities to discover new professions and to put their energy at work.
The importance of rooting the youth into a proper job becomes even bigger if we take into account the fact that there is competition over the Mediterranean youth. Locally, conflicts and influence groups have identified them as vulnerable targets to recruit; a recent survey has uncovered that the youth consider the lack of jobs and opportunities as the number one recruitment driver for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Internationally, the war for talent might deprive the Mediterranean region from its best role models as many flee for better opportunities: the top three countries where Arab youth would like to live in if given the opportunity are the United Arab Emirates followed by the United States and Germany.
The diversity of resources and talent around the Mediterranean together with its geographical location makes it an ideal space for innovation and entrepreneurship. The timing of the required change is now, as, simultaneously, the digital economy is an exponential force that could provide the Mediterranean with unprecedented economic growth opportunities if the right investments in education and entrepreneurship are made no later than today.