Igniting the entrepreneurial flame in Brussels with Think Big School

It’s amazing to think that by 2017, it’s estimated that 700,000 highly skilled digital jobs will be unfilled due to a skills gap. For young people, of which one million are unemployed in the United Kingdom, this represents a huge challenge as within five years, 90 percent of all jobs will require ICT skills. For companies across Europe, like Telefónica, this also presents a problem, particularly as we continue our transformation into becoming a digital services provider. Who will be our next cohort of employees and customers fuelling innovation and using our products and services?

Although the digital horizon looks challenging, we’d like to think of this digital skills gap as an opportunity, as stated by Ronan Dunne (Telefonica UK CEO) last week at the US embassy in Dublin, and through Think Big, want to help young people make the most of what technology can enable them to do.

At Telefonica, we’re passionate about young people and support them to create positive change, learn new skills and gain relevant opportunities in the world through our Think Big programmes. This is why we’ve committed to helping one million young people throughout Europe!

I’m fortunate enough to be part of a small, dedicated and talented team who help bring Think Big to life within Telefonica UK. Over the last two years, I’ve been working on Think Big School, a programme that aims to bring the best of the business world and digital together in the form of a work skills day for young people aged 14-16.

So what happens at Think Big School? Throughout the day, young people are instilled with the attitude to start small, Think Big and encouraged to develop ideas for solutions to everyday problems. They develop their concepts in teams, bring them to life using digital platforms and present their ideas at the end of the day. We also support and fund ideas through the Think Big youth programme so young people can continue their journey even after the session has finished. Think Big School attendees are supported, taught and mentored by O2 employees and our partners from the Mozilla Foundation, Young Enterprise and Appshed.

Since the Think Big School programme began in 2012, almost 5000 students have been involved across the UK.

We’ve also rolled out Think Big School across the continent and at the end of March, I joined a number of my colleagues from across Europe in London to discuss the next steps in developing our online curriculum and digital learning platforms. I was also fortunate to meet a European Commissioner, Telefonica staff from across the world and international students during an innovative shared-learning opportunity in Brussels.

This event welcomed over 170 students, teachers and mentors together with our amazing delivery partners, Mozilla and Technology Will Save Us, to turn young consumers of technology into tomorrow’s makers. Young people used Mozilla’s Webmaker programmes to learn coding and Little Bits Kits to get their digital hands dirty!

For me, the session was an acknowledgement that businesses, academic institutions and governments must do more in opening up the possibilities of technology so ‘digital natives’ do not grow up underestimating the value of learning such skills.

We also need to ensure that young people are invested in, whether that is through programmes like Think Big or simply work experience opportunities or even better, direct mentoring opportunities so that young people can shadow those in the business world. Collaborating with a host of partners has enabled Telefonica to look past the more obvious approaches to CSR, like financial investment, and deliver initiatives that make a real impact on the lives and future prospects of young people. Whether that’s through Talentum, Think Big, Wayra or GoThinkBig, we have a range of opportunities to suit people growing up in this challenging world.

We wouldn’t have gained such insight if it wasn’t for partners like MozillaAppshedYoung EnterpriseInternational School of BrusselsNational Youth AgencyUK Youth, and Technology Will Save US to mention but a few.

We know at Telefonica that we have ignited the flame that gets young people becoming self-reliant and will help continue to open up the possibilities of technology for thousands more. However, we need others to join us who share in our vision. By coming together, we can help forge a more entrepreneurial and digital future for everyone in Europe and safeguard our spot as an innovation hub.

I urge you to join the movement and start thinking big from today! If you want to get involved in any way then please contact us.