YouthSpark in Austria: Giving Generation Y the Opportunities They Need

Zeynep was an 18-year old Turkish immigrant in Austria, who struggled with the new language and felt disadvantaged in comparison to her native classmates. Zeynep took the opportunity to attend MyBusiness! training, a Microsoft sponsored program that aims to improve IT-skills and entrepreneurial thinking, where she learned life-changing IT skills that changed the way she looked at the world around her and boosted her confidence. This ultimately led her to ace her school exams and to fulfil her ambition of studying languages at university.

Another great example is Ayten, who was born in Bursa, Turkey, and has been living in Austria for about 10 years now. After completing secondary school, she was unsure what she wanted to do with her life, and applied for waitress jobs at various fast food restaurants, but was always rejected.

A friend convinced Ayten to participate in MyBusiness! training, which enabled her to develop her IT-skills and broaden her entrepreneurial understanding, enhancing her employability. Today, Ayten works as store manager for the third largest chain of bakeries in Austria.

Having been told Zeynep’s and Ayten’s stories on a recent visit to Austria, I felt encouraged to write this blog.

The IT training Zeynep and Ayten received was part of “My Business!” – one of numerous projects funded by the Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative – and like many others who have been through the training, Zeynep and Ayten were given an opportunity and decided to seize it.

Austria is a very beautiful country facing a challenge, almost as high as its mountains. Like many other European countries, it must address the high levels of youth unemployment along with a growing skills gap.

Youth unemployment in Austria stands at around 9.2% and, exacerbating this situation, is the gap between the skills potential employers want, and those that young people actually have. Many of these skills relate to technology. Looking at ICT, this year’s Digital Agenda Scoreboard from the European Commission found that, due a lack of candidates with the relevant skills, the sector could have as many as 900,000 unfilled vacancies in the EU by 2015.

At Microsoft we take this issue very seriously and are committed to leading change on this front by investing through our technology, talent and time. When celebrating the first anniversary of YouthSpark last month, I was very happy to witness the progress that the program is making.

Since its launch in 2012, YouthSpark has reached 103 million young people around the world, partnered with 186 youth-serving non-profits and expanded digital inclusion and access to technology and training for 78.6 million youth. We are well underway to creating opportunities for 300 million young people across the globe – which is the target that the program has set itself to achieve in the next three years.

In Austria, more than 112,000 youth have benefited from YouthSpark related training over the past 3 years. The biggest drivers for this impact have been:

1. The Smartmice project – which targets children at elementary school to improve their language skills.

2. The IT Fitness Initiative – a digital literacy blended learning portal offered by Microsoft and Austrian Government partners.

3. Imagine Cup – Microsoft’s software development competition for university students.

4. Daughter´s Day – creates awareness among young girls aged 11 to 16 of technical jobs as parents bring their daughters and their friends into the workplace. This is offered in partnership with City of Vienna and EU Safer Internet Day.

It was extremely encouraging for me to see how the YouthSpark projects that Microsoft supports have already impacted young Austrians like Zeynep and Ayten. My Business!, the project that helped them, came about as a result of a $120,000 donation from Microsoft, and in 2013 supported 5,000 young people in realising their potential through IT skills and entrepreneurial skills training.

This year alone, Microsoft has been involved in many different projects, providing access to technology or education, as well as training in the safe use of the internet, IT skills and entrepreneurship to 30,000 young people in Austria.

As Zeynep’s and Ayten’s stories show, YouthSpark is empowering young people with the necessary skills training and tools to take control of their own future and creating opportunities to shape their careers. While we can be proud of our progress, there are many more young people to reach.

With YouthSpark, we hope to help youth around the world imagine and realise their potential; to reveal tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs; and to build stronger communities and economies.

I’m encouraged by the great progress we’ve made, in Austria and elsewhere.

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