Jean-Philippe Courtois (Global) - Notes from the World Economic Forum

Jean Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International, shares his views on this year’s WEF themes and how we might mobilise youth to make a greater contribution to the technology industry.

It's a measure of the scale and durability of the financial crisis that many of the themes from last year's World Economic Forum have made it onto this year's agenda. But while last year much of the talk surrounded public debt, this year's big Davos theme is unemployment, and in particular the dearth of opportunities for young people. It's a problem that affects business and government alike. When the number of choices available to school leavers is limited, that in turn limits the supply of skilled candidates for each role. If employers can't fill the job vacancies they require to reach new markets, it means they don't invest. Without investment there can be no growth.

In the technology industry, breaking this cycle depends partly on access and partly on confidence. For young people, gaining access to the right tools and the right skills creates confidence. And with confidence comes the ability to make more informed choices for the future. But there is a gap between those that have the access to education, training and opportunities to be successful and those who do not. Long term, this creates an imbalance between the supply and demand of skilled labour. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of data science.

Gartner estimates that 4.4 million Information Technology jobs will be generated by 2015. Two out of every three of these jobs will go unfilled. Technology leaders must find a way to redress this imbalance. It's estimated that 600 million jobs worldwide will need to be created over the next decade to make up for jobs lost in the recent economic crisis. But many of these new jobs will come from science, engineering and technology, which continue to drive the bulk of innovation and growth. Between 2009 and 2013, the IT industry will help create more than 75,000 new businesses and 5.8 million new jobs worldwide.

But, as job growth accelerates in industries requiring highly skilled workers, we are creating a global market for talent that remains largely vacant. Global youth unemployment is 12.7% - more than double the overall rate of 6%. In Europe, 14 million young people are not in employment, education or training, and at the same time thousands of jobs remain unfilled. What hope can there be for the future without a concerted effort to promote greater opportunity for young people?

Escalating public debt is one reason why many countries feel powerless in their attempts to reverse youth unemployment, but reverse it they must. The financial burden of supporting the young jobless is jeopardising future economic growth. An EU labour market study shows that a rise in youth employment of just 20% would save the EU over 21 billion Euros per year.

To help address this issue, Microsoft last week signed agreements with three pan-European organizations: the European Youth Forum, Telecentre Europe and Junior Achievement - Young Enterprise as part of its commitment to creating opportunities for 30 million young people across Europe. In addition to these three regional partnerships, Microsoft is providing 27 grants to youth-focused non-profits in 25 countries across Europe.

Microsoft will provide these three organizations with financial resources and software grants to promote skills and training that will help young people to find work that best suits their skills, support them in finding meaningful traineeships and internships and identify talent and passion that could be honed into entrepreneurial spirit.

This support is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, an exciting new $500 million company-wide program which, over the next three years, will help to transform education and entrepreneurship by connecting 300 million young people to opportunities around the world. YouthSpark is about providing additional resources for both students and teachers: technology tools that impact education frameworks, new platforms to foster innovation and digital skills training to prepare young people for the task of finding employment or starting their own companies.

Public-private partnerships like these are essential for stimulating important changes to the education system that mirror the transformation of our economy. The advent of the cloud has introduced new products and services, which are in turn driving a broad range of new technology-focused careers. If these opportunities are to be realised, we need a new generation of tech-savvy, flexible and mobile employees who understand the new working environment.

Davos continues to inspire movement on this front.


Jean Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International