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eSkills: Investing in our youth to boost employment in Europe

Cliona Connolly
11.11.2014 - 17:52
Bill Liao

Investing in the right training and education for youth will help boost employment across Europe according to Bill Liao, co-founder of the non-profit CoderDojo clubs which teach young people how to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games.

Learning to embrace digital technology from a young age

Europe’s policymakers can support their youngest citizens by focusing on training and educational opportunities that reflect the skillset needed to meet future labour market needs, which, according to CoderDojo co-founder Bill Liao, will be technologically-driven.

CoderDojo has become a global phenomenon since it was founded in Cork, Ireland, by James Whelton and Bill Liao in 2011. There are now 25,000 members (aged 7 – 17 years) in over 500 clubs across 50 countries. 15,000 of those youngsters are members of the 350 European CoderDojo clubs.

We have no laurels to rest on. So many kids are yet to have the opportunity to experience all that coding brings. Bill Liao

CoderDojo’s potential will continue to grow according to Liao: “I’m delighted at how fast CoderDojo is travelling and yet we have only barely scratched the surface of where we need to be.”

It takes away any fear they will ever have of technology. It equips them with a powerful way of really thinking about problems algorithmically.

“I want to see a million kids coding collaboratively every week worldwide for free and I will settle for 100,000 next year. We have no laurels to rest on. So many kids are yet to have the opportunity to experience all that coding brings.”

CoderDojo is innovative as it gives children the opportunity to learn key life skills, central to the knowledge economy, in a fun setting Seán Kelly

Aside from the fun, social benefits for young CoderDojo members, Liao highlighted the many practical benefits for children who learn to code and embrace technology from a young age: “It takes away any fear they will ever have of technology. It equips them with a powerful way of really thinking about problems algorithmically.”

The best coders are poets: they combine creativity and economy of expression in the language of code. To get this good you need immersive, collaborative and creative learning Bill Liao

“The best coders are poets: they combine creativity and economy of expression in the language of code. To get this good you need immersive, collaborative and creative learning. That is what CoderDojo provides - a free space where that immersion can occur.”

Europe’s ICT skills shortage

“Invest in our youth. Invest in our kids. Give them the best opportunities they could get through learning to write code,” Liao urged MEPs at a special CoderDojo European Parliament workshop during which 35 young people from Ireland, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Romania and Poland taught the grown-ups how to write computer code.

There is a particularly visible gap in the labour market with a majority of talented business people unable to programme or even find decent programming talent

Initiatives like CoderDojo could help address Europe’s ICT skills shortage according to Liao: “Europe has lagged behind other countries in promoting free activities outside of education to enable people to learn and have fun at the same time, except in sports. It’s time to facilitate the abilities of people to be more creative and entrepreneurial. We are not going to grow with more of the same.”

It’s time to facilitate the abilities of people to be more creative and entrepreneurial. We are not going to grow with more of the same.

“As one of the two founders, I can say we saw a huge gap between the demand for highly-capable and creative computer programmers and the actual numbers of programmers who are available. As an investor, seeing many start-up companies, I can say there is a particularly visible gap in the labour market with a majority of talented business people unable to programme or even find decent programming talent.”

Increasing ICT skills to combat youth unemployment

Supporting our youth through education and training opportunities that meet labour-market needs is an EPP Group priority according to Seán Kelly MEP, who hosted the CoderDojo event in the Parliament.

“While youth unemployment currently stands at around 23% in Europe, a clear imbalance exists between the unemployed workforce and labour market needs, as 900,000 job vacancies are expected in ICT across Europe by 2015 because of a lack of skills."

While youth unemployment currently stands at around 23% in Europe, a clear imbalance exists between the unemployed workforce and labour market needs, as 900,000 job vacancies are expected in ICT across Europe by 2015 because of a lack of skills Seán Kelly

"Movements like the voluntary CoderDojo should be supported by the EU, in addition to a clear focus on increasing our ICT and specialist tech skills in Europe.”

Funding initiatives to develop scientific, mathematic and technological skills

MEP Kelly has asked the newly-elected Commission Vice-President responsible for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, to consider using Erasmus+ funding to support initiatives like CoderDojo.

“CoderDojo is innovative as it gives children the opportunity to learn key life skills, central to the knowledge economy, in a fun setting.”

The MEP has been a firm supporter of the CoderDojo movement since its early days, when it was founded in his own Ireland South constituency: “Little over a year and a half ago, I hosted the first ever EU Dojo event in the European Parliament. At the time, CoderDojo was just over a year old and was active in 10 Member States. Now, there are now over 500 verified Dojos in 50 countries - this is truly astounding growth.”

MEP Kelly has called for Erasmus+ funding to be used to support initiatives like CoderDojo

“I have seen myself how revolutionary a concept this is and am keen to help spread the idea across the EU in any way I can, so I was delighted to host the second EU Dojo event in Parliament this year.”

In Europe, we often talk of the need to develop skills in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and we receive constant feedback from industry as to the need to up-skill our education systems to meet these needs

“In Europe, we often talk of the need to develop skills in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and we receive constant feedback from industry as to the need to up-skill our education systems to meet these needs. However, only so much of this can be achieved through formal education.”

Mr Kelly has challenged his fellow MEPs to become 'CoderDojo Ambassadors' by supporting the establishment of CoderDojo clubs in their own constituencies.

We believe in innovation. We believe in people. #believeinpeople @SeanKellyMEP

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