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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Employability and Entrepreneurship: building a virtuous circle in a European youth strategy within the framework of the Erasmus+ Programme

by Juan Ratto-Nielsen
Language: EN

1. Introduction

I would like to introduce my vision on the role of employability and entrepreneurship in a European youth strategy based on my previous work as an author and trainer, and on recent publications and studies on entrepreneurial learning and youth work. The initial premise of this article is the need for a common ground and shared operational definitions on the concepts of employability and entrepreneurship within the field of youth. Being that said, I will address needs analysis to identify current issues affecting the strategy along with possible paths to tackle them. Finally, I will draw conclusions to sum up the ideas and recommendations.


2. Definitions

While there is no singular definition of employability, a review of the literature suggests that employability is about work and the ability to be employed (Hillage, 1998). This ability depends on “the combination of factors (personal attributes and competences, marketability and economic context), which enable individuals to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment and to progress during career” (CEDEFOP, 2008).  Thus, employment and employability are two sides of the same equation. Whereas employment depends on the demand side, employability seems to be supply-centred. There, young job-seekers play the main role vis-a-vis continuous changes in the economic context and labour market.


Within this new context, entrepreneurship has been conceptualised as a competence (EntreComp) in a wider framework “understood as a transversal key competence applicable by individuals and groups, including existing organisations, across all spheres of life.” (Bacigalupo et al., 2016) This broad concept “enables citizens to nurture their personal development, to actively contribute to social development, to enter the job market as employee or as self-employed”. (Bacigalupo et al., 2016). Thus, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial learning have become part of the strategy to solve the unemployment situation by giving job-seekers an opportunity for development and learning to adapt to this new uncertain scenario.  It also provides better clues on how to deal with employability and the roles of youth work and other stakeholders.


Whereas both concepts have been frequently used, agencies, national governments and EU institutions implementing youth programmes and policies do not seem to come into terms on the focus of their youth employability and entrepreneurship definitions. Context does play a major role in their understanding. Employment and employability are often used as interchangeable concepts, when the country’s primary need is to tackle high youth unemployment rates. Entrepreneurship similarly responds to policy and ideological circumstances, either taking a business creation stance or expanding to a broader definition of entrepreneurial learning.


3. Needs analysis

These new strategic priorities in the youth field and beyond[1] have also generated debates on the instrumentalisation of youth work and the role of youth workers. The sphere of entrepreneurship is no longer limited to the business dimension, but it now encompasses a wider array of value creation activities meant to empower young people to help they take initiative and find their own solutions. The shift in focus also requires increased competences for youth workers dealing with young people, including disadvantaged groups such as NEETs to help them develop their creative and entrepreneurial potential, gain employability and assess their learning outcomes (Arnkil, 2015).


Non-formal learning may be used to stimulate entrepreneurial skills and attitudes, through its experiential nature, and through participatory activities. However, a further step must be taken to meet the need for transformative learning supported by adequate guidance enabling each young person to find her or his pathway.  Assessment with Youthpass, coaching, and youth initiative projects have proved valuable in supporting this process within the Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme. (Ratto-Nielsen, 2015).


As a consequence, youth workers and Erasmus+ programme officers should be able to build bridges with professionals in formal education and training, local administrations and the business sector, in order to find means of fostering entrepreneurship and employability as a common endeavour (Andersen et al., 2017).  These needs can be summed up, as follows:

  • To define the role and function of youth work in supporting young people’s employability and entrepreneurial learning.
  • To raise awareness in the youth field of the value creation (social, financial and cultural) from entrepreneurship in a broader sense, and its spillover effect on employability.
  • To equip youth workers and relevant Erasmus+ programme officers with competences (understood as skills, knowledge and values) and tools to foster entrepreneurship and employability hand-in-hand with other stakeholders (business, public administration, etc.).
  • To raise awareness of the value and contribution of youth work and non-formal learning among other sectors, along with its recognition and validation.
  • To align values, priorities and goals of National Agencies, SALTO resource centres, and relevant organisations towards a coordinated entrepreneurship and employability strategy within the framework of the Erasmus+ Youth in Action Programme.


4. Pathways to actions

As in any roadmap, there are multiple pathways to arrive to the desired destination. 5 main needs have been identified in the previous section with specific, yet tightly interlinked, strategies to meet them.


a. Youth work towards employability and entrepreneurship

Youth work helps young people to develop skills and competences in many areas, to strengthen their networks, to change their behaviour, and to build positive relationships.  Entrepreneurship and employability competences and skills are perfectly adaptable to the youth work ecosystem. Proper training along with youth work-proof activities must be designed in order to embed them into non-formal learning. It would bring an opportunity to reflect on where youth work stands on entrepreneurship and employability and help it find its place, role and function. The first step is taking stock of existing practices, methods and tools. Youth workers must be equipped and trained with adequate resources to facilitate this transition. Coaching, mentoring, Youthpass, personal development methods and formative assessment have proved useful tools and methods for the acquisition of both soft and hard skills among young people and youth workers.


b. Value creation within the youth field

Entrepreneurship and employability, as new strategic priorities, have posed new questions about the role of youth workers and the Erasmus+ Programme. Embedding them into non-formal learning may be difficult, unless youth workers and organisations could claim ownership of their implementation. Youth workers should not perceive the introduction of entrepreneurship and employability as an extra burden or even something foreign to their sector. In fact, the strategy must include appropriate measures to make youth workers aware of the value of entrepreneurship and employability in their practices.  In every country, practices differ due to their legal, social and cultural systems. Youth workers should identify the best practices within each country, adapt them or create new ones.  Cross-sector seminars, conferences and study visits with a focus on the role of youth work and non-formal learning must be included in the strategy.  


c. Capacity building towards collaborative practice

Going back to the concept of ecosystems[2], youth work cannot be detached from current reality. Young people, youth workers and youth policy-makers are part of societies with diverse legal, social and cultural structures. Transferability of practices is not always possible without taking into account other stakeholders, by building bridges and creating synergies. Equipping youth workers with new tools and competences will necessarily require them to learn about other sectors, their needs, goals and strategies, and vice-versa. EntreComp is defined as a transversal competence that needs a cross-sectoral approach. Collaborative practice among stakeholders must be prioritized without losing the essence of youth work. Consultation on a national level with other sectors would also help disseminate the role of youth work by way of inquiring. Establishing national consultation committees would not only provide advice to the strategy but also establish a structured dialogue across sectors.


d. The missing link: Recognition 

Once the role of youth work in support and guidance has been well defined, it is deemed necessary to implement strategies to make other sectors acknowledge it. EntreComp links entrepreneurship to youth work, where the job of a youth worker is focused on the entrepreneurial spirit and learning, rather than on the business creation. Validation and recognition of learning occurring in non-formal settings should be accompanied by instruments such as Youthpass or Europass to link youth work and human resources development and employability (Ratto-Nielsen, 2012). Further implementation of such instruments is crucial to measure and demonstrate impact to itself and other sectors.


e. Multilevel coordination

Cross-sectoral partnerships are to be promoted to integrate entrepreneurship and employability priorities in the youth work practice. So far, there have been multiple pathways to cater to a diversity of realities and needs in each country or region. National Agencies, SALTOs and other institutional stakeholders need to construct a common denominator based on the mapping of local and national support systems in order to draft a common strategy and align it with the strategic priorities defined by the European Commission. Further value alignment cannot be neglected any longer. Top-down hierarchical institutions must confront the initiative-prone essence of entrepreneurship along with higher transparency in their employment policies. Shared values, initiative and transparency are preconditions to market an effective strategy with young people and the European society as a whole.  National cross-sector consultation groups must be actively involved, along with a constant flow of information on the latest developments in order to showcase their impact and promote the strategy.


5. Conclusions

My vision goes beyond the roadmap allegory; it is a virtuous circle built on four pillars: youth work role and active participation, cross-sector approach, capacity building, and recognition, founded on common values, transparency and sense of initiative. Building this requires a strong, yet flexible, scaffolding strategy sustained by proper coordination and active involvement of national agencies, SALTO resource centres and national stakeholders.




Andersen, T., Frøhlich Hougaard, K., Nindl, S. & Hill-Dixon, A. (2017), Taking the future in their own hands – Youth work and entrepreneurial learning. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.

Arnkil, R. (2015), Lost in Transition? — Challenges for social inclusion and employment of young people, in: Youth work and non-formal learning in Europe’s education landscape. A quarter of a century of EU cooperation for youth policy and practice. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.

Bacigalupo, M., Kampylis, P., Punie, Y. & Van den Brande, G. (2016), EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework, Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.

CEDEFOP (2008). Terminology of European education and training policy-a selection of 100 key terms. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Hillage, J., Pollard, E. (1998) Employability: developing a framework for policy analysis. Research Report RR85, Department for Education and Employment.

Ratto-Nielsen J. (2012), Youthpass and Human Resource Development: the missing link towards employability” SALTO Training and Cooperation RC.

Ratto-Nielsen, J. (2015), From non-formal to transformative learning in EU youth programmes: unleashing the potential of entrepreneurial learning in youth work, in: Youth work and non-formal learning in Europe’s education landscape. A quarter of a century of EU cooperation for youth policy and practice. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.


[1] Fostering youth entrepreneurship is one of the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagship initiatives: Youth on the Move, New skills and jobs, Digital Agenda for Europe, Innovation Union.  Commission communication Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan - Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe (2013).

[2] Whereas study visits, training courses, and exchange of good-practices are regarded as main tools to train youth workers on entrepreneurship competences and practices, the ecosystems (legal, social and and economic context) are often beyond the scope of such activities or plainly ignored. For recent studies on the relevance of ecosystems, see "Capacity building seminar: Building enabling ecosystems for social enterprises- 17-18 February 2016 - Brussels, Belgium"

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