Joe Bird visited both Germany and Greece as part of his study abroad experience and chose to focus on the Greek crisis, including its implications for future generations of Greek youth.
Although both located in Europe, my visit to Germany and Greece this summer unearthed a stark contrast between these two respective countries. My European adventure began in Munich, Germany where my classmates and I experienced firsthand the efficiency and productivity the Germans are known for. From its omnipresent public transit to its factory floors, we got to see why Germany is experiencing both economic and social growth. Germans are highly educated and have invested heavily into infrastructure and health services. We toured the BMW factory where luxury vehicles are created to the exact specifications of a demanding and loyal global customer base, and this deep understanding of both global business and value creation was put on display.
The picture in Greece is quite different from Germany. Athens is a city rich in history and culture, but contains little else. The Greek economic crisis is well known, and highly visible once you leave the tourist areas near the Acropolis. The Greeks’ long-held attitudes toward job security, guaranteed pensions, and state benefits are no longer sustainable in practice. Restauranteurs actively compete on the street for patrons, each making every effort to lure you into his establishment. Proprietors of stores do the same. At one restaurant, the host gave our dining group the first round of drinks on the house as an enticement. (It worked!) However, all this demonstrates that business is not thriving in Greece.
While the attitude of many that the state owes them a living is prevalent, we saw some incredible and inspiring examples of entrepreneurs in Greece who are working hard to improve things for themselves and their country. We met Niki Koutisanas, a co-founder of APIVITA cosmetics, whose company develops natural products for the skin and hair. The company is innovative in its approach to business and society by thinking of itself as a living organism—like the bees for which it’s named—continuously creating value through its industriousness. With companies like APIVITA growing and thriving in Greece, there is hope.
But ultimately, change will need to come from the Greek youth. They need to buck the old way of thinking that has led to this crisis. Greece will need to liberalize its education system, a problem outlined by the Dean of the ALBA Graduate Business School, Nickolaos Travlos, during his presentation to our group. Greece is an economy dominated by small and mid-sized businesses, many of which are unable to find the skilled labor they require, which hurts efficiency and growth.
It occurred to me that Greece could benefit from an organization that is devoted to the direct placement of young workers who possess the skills needed by these companies. Employment agencies exist in Greece to service specialized professions, much like in the rest of the developed world; however, my concept is to partner with companies, learn their specific needs, provide training specific to roles, and place applicants in apprenticeships, or internships, for more comprehensive on-the-job training that will lead to permanent employment. It would help to bridge the gap that currently exists in the higher education system that isn’t preparing Greek youth for employment. It also alleviates the stigma against vocational education held by many Greek youth, because it involves a direct link between training/education and the employer.
No business education could be complete without opportunities such as those provided by the Ahler’s Center, to instill a global and social perspective on each participant. I’ll always be grateful, not just for the chance to see cool, new places, but for the insights I received through seeing businesses operate outside my home country. We live in a global marketplace, and it is imperative to understand all the segments of this expansive market. Studying abroad is the perfect way to develop an understanding of how we are all interconnected, which, in turn, will help you succeed in your future endeavors.
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