Last week PlasticsEurope teamed up with EU40 - the network of young MEPs who were 40 or under 40 at the time of their election - to host a debate on youth employment at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Students from across Europe sat with MEPs, who prepared them to enter an afternoon debate with a panel of influential speakers. On the panel was Koos Richelle, the EC's Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, who said that one of the issues surrounding the unemployment crisis is that "Europe is not a learning society".
Presumably, he refers to the repeated economic mistakes in recent decades which have brought us into the crisis. Can it also be said, however, that Europe still does not bestow learning and education with the value they deserve, and need?
Learning 'on the job' when you are old enough to join the workforce is simply not enough anymore. To remain globally competitive, Europe's manufacturing sector needs young, skilled staff who are ready to join a business with at least partial training, be it in engineering, design or manufacturing itself. This doesn't mean that education becomes especially 'adult'. In early years, children always learn by making - in cookery, art class, music - why should higher education be any different?
Discussion also meandered towards the notion of leaving Europe to look for work where manufacturing is booming - a choice made by thousands of young people. We now know that in Asia tremendous value is placed on learning and building skill sets in order to become world leaders in industry. As a result many sectors are now reporting that the quality of Asian exports is on the rise. Governments and education bodies there are working effectively with industry to share the responsibility of providing a useful education.
Therein lies another predicament. What constitutes a 'useful' education? Chairing the debate was MEP Katarina Nevedalova who said that in her native Slovakia, "we face the problem of young people studying many unusual social sciences, where they obtain skills which are hardly transferable to real life situations. Most of Slovak college students expect to be unemployed after they finish their study.”
Often cruelly referred to in the UK as 'Mickey Mouse Degrees' or 'soft options', I am an advocate for 'unusual social sciences' as Ms Nevedalova puts it (with only a little more tact, I might add). Studies in 'unusual social sciences' have helped to reduce crime and poverty, cure diseases both physical and mental, and heavily contribute to the framework of society itself.
However, I take her point. The value placed on certain crucial fields of learning, such as engineering and design, seem to be unbalanced. The rewards are there for the next generation to reap - but they can't do it alone.