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Season 3, Episode 23: Developing Future Talent with Junior Achievement Europe

In this episode, we talk about innovation & entrepreneurship, work readiness, and future of work skills with Axel Andersson and Isak Lager, Co-Founders of Shear Joy, a Swedish company that creates sustainable products made of sheep’s wool waste, and Michel Debruyne, Managing Consultant from Talent Solutions Right Management.

Shear Joy is the 2021 winner of the ManpowerGroup “Ready for Work” Award granted at Junior Achievement Europe’s Gen-E contest, a celebration of entrepreneurship and the achievements of European students, where thousands of young entrepreneurs, 15 years and older, showcase their cutting-edge business ideas. ManpowerGroup’s partnership with Junior Achievement spans several years, across more than 30 countries worldwide.

Listen to this episode to learn about Shear Joy’s development and learnings and how Right Management’s 1-year Mentoring Program, developed for the winning student team will support their growth.

Hosts: Dominika Gałusa and April Clark

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Full Transcript

Intro (00:01): The future of work and the future for workers is changing. rom new technologies and talent strategies, to the management of tomorrow's workforce. Tap in to ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions’, 60 years of expertise, and join us for the Transform Talent Podcast, your guide to talent market trends, new technologies and winning talent solutions. 

Dominika Gałusa (00:28): Hello and welcome to the 23rd episode of the Transform Talent Podcast. We are your hosts, Dominika Galusa… 

April Clark (00:35): …and April Clark. In this episode, we'll talk about entrepreneurship, work readiness, financial literacy, employability and job creation among young people, as well as about Junior Achievement Europe, Europe's largest education program provider with over four million young people going through their programs each year. 

Dominika Gałusa (00:53): And last year, we had the pleasure to speak with Salvatore Nigro, Chief Executive Officer of Junior Achievement Europe, Maalfrid Brath, Regional Managing Director Nordics and Baltics of ManpowerGroup, and Josephine Daly Tempelaar, Co-Founder of Rawstraw, the 2019 ManpowerGroup Ready for Work Award winner at the JA Europe Company of the Year competition. And we will make sure to link this episode in the podcast description. 

April Clark (01:19): Today, we'd like to showcase the 2021 winner of ManpowerGroup's Ready for Work Award, Shear Joy. We would like to learn about the one year mentoring program developed for the winning student team by Right Management as well as about the winning team's development and learnings. To talk to us about this exciting topic, we've invited Michel Debruyne, Managing Consultant, Right Management. Welcome, Michel. 

Michel Debruyne (01:42): Hello. 

April Clark (01:43): And Shear Joy's Co-Founders, Axel Andersson and Isak Lager. It's great to have you with us today, Axel and Isak. 

Axel Andersson (01:51): Thank you, it's great to be here. 

Isak Lager (01:52): Yeah, thank you for having us. 

Dominika Gałusa (01:54): Well, it's a pleasure to have you here, but let me start with Michel first. And Michel, since we are talking about young people's career, could you please share what was your first job and what it's taught you? 

Michel Debruyne (02:07): Yes, of course, I can. So for those who know me a little bit, I'm basically an archeologist. So, my first job was being a researcher at University of Leuven for 10 years. And besides the fact that I teach young students at that point in time, I was also doing my PhD. And I led the excavations to the Middle East for the university. Every year, when I had to form an excavation team, to start off, heading for Syria, I knew that I only had these people with me for two months. If someone got ill, I had to send them back. But because of restrictions, I could not replace them. 

So, my first exercise was to hire or to compose a team of young good students. Excavators, who were able to sit down through the whole journey of two and a half months in the dessert. So learning fast about people skill, getting a good eye on who's going to be there, and who is not going to be afraid or becoming quickly ill, was one of the lessons I learned to, quite directly. 

Dominika Gałusa (03:20): And that’s such a great story. I had no idea that our colleagues in Talent Solutions, used to, used to do that. That, that's great. That's a great learning, thanks. So, moving to Junior Achievement Europe, could you please explain what it is all about, and how ManpowerGroup is involved? 

Michel Debruyne (03:38): Yes, of course. Junior Achievement Europe is actually all about, and I think Axel and Isak can better explain that, it's the best of the best, you know. It's when all students did their, let's say, their exercises and their competition in the countries, the best of each country is then, selected to compete against each other in European level. And that's what Junior Achievement Europe is all about. So, you have the best 40 countries in Europe, well, the best teams of the countries getting together and doing their stuff, and trying to beat each other in European competition, on different, different levels. 

Because we, from ManpowerGroup, if I recall well, the first pilot we did was in 2015, 2016. And then, we geot a first partnership three years from 2017. And very quickly, we became a European Gold Partner as of 2019. And we have been, well, ever since also, in the jury, ManpowerGroup, was very actively involved in different elements of Junior Achievement. But foremost, in this case, and where I was brought into five years ago, was being a jury member for the Ready for Work Competition of the ManpowerGroup, and the Read for Work Award, if I say, not competition, is all about youngsters getting ready for work. 

And of course, as a jury member, we try to get the skill sets right. Detect the potential that's there for these young people in order to get ready for their first job. 

Dominika Gałusa (05:25): And that’s such an amazing initiative, especially that we're facing talent shortage. And you know, we also recently learned that JA Worldwide, the founding body of JA Europe, was nominated for the 2022 Nobel Prize. 

Michel Debruyne (05:41): Absolutely. 

Dominika Gałusa (05:42): And, yeah. And this is- 

Michel Debruyne (05:43): Astonishing, huh? 

Dominika Gałusa (05:43): Yeah, it's an incredible achievement. And it only showcases JA's global reach and their success in their very, the empowerment to youth at scale. And what I found on the website, and I really like this, and their ability to find unity in diversity. 

Michel Debruyne (06:02): Yeah. 

Dominika Gałusa (06:02): And we are incredibly proud to be JA's partner. 

Michel Debruyne (06:05): Absolutely. And, if I can add to that, Dominika, it's also about the energy. When you're there, I just came back a few weeks ago from Tallinn, the 2022 edition, 750 people, a lot of energy, stages, exercises, pitches, stance. Uh, it's all a big fuss, but then you see, okay, this is the future we're looking at, you know. This is the future of talent that will roll over on the labor market, making sure that companies will have the talent that they need in order to succeed tomorrow. 

Dominika Gałusa (06:44): Let's talk about Shear Joy now. Let's talk about our youth, the young talent that we have today with us. So, Shear Joy creates sustainable products that are made of Swedish sheep's wool waste. And in February 2021, Shear Joy generated a revenue of 2000, thousand Swedish krona, and made profit of 22,000 Swedish krona. And that is almost 2200 euros of revenue and 2200 euros of profit. So, April, I think the next question is… belongs to you. 

April Clark (07:23): Yes. (laughs) You know, I was, listening to Dominika talk about all the success that you've had, and it's just so incredibly inspiring. Not only, I think to, to those of us in business in general, but just to, to young entrepreneurs. The ManpowerGroup's Ready to Work Award is granted to the student teams that best demonstrate work readiness skills, such as collaboration, leadership, learnability, which is the desire and ability to continually learn and develop new skills. 

Tell us, you know, what is the story behind Shear Joy? 

Axel Andersson (07:52): Well, it all goes back to the first couple of days, when the course entrepreneurship in upper secondary school that really involves JA. And the first couple of days, we had no idea what to do. It was a blank canvas with so many opportunities, but we had no idea they were all there. And we started brainstorming about what are we going to do with this year. And so, we threw out some ideas and we wrote them down on paper. And we're all, "Okay? Yeah, yeah, yeah," some of them worked. 

And then, Isak Drougge, who is our third member and became CEO of the, of the mini company, he pitched this wild card idea. And we were like, "Yeah, okay. We'll, we'll bring this on and we'll see how it sounds." And then, we went to our teachers, and we pitched three ideas. Two we were fairly certain they were going to work, but the third idea was Isak's wild card. And when we presented them, our teacher said, "Go with the third one." Not a chance you're doing the other one, when you got this idea. 

April Clark (08:58): (laughs) The wild card always wins, right? 

Axel Andersson (09:00): The wild card always wins. I'm going to tell you what the wild card was now, because it's amazing. And it all comes down to, to Isak Drougge's family and his roots. He and his family ha- he has relatives who are sheep farmers. And his, he told us, when we pitched this idea, that one day his brother who is called Malte, he came home and he said, "Today, I have helped dig down about a metric ton of wool in the ground." And Isak was, "Okay. What, yeah, was it like pests or something? Is it, is it bad?" 

"No, it's, it's perfectly good wool." And Isak couldn't, for the life of him, figure out why anyone would throw away huge amounts of perfect good sheep's wool. And then he talked to his relatives, and they told him that each year in Sweden, about, let me see if I got the right figure. About 1200 to 1500 tons of wool, that's about 55% to 70% of the annual production gets thrown away, perfect good wool. 

April Clark (10:07): Wow. 

Axel Andersson (10:09): And he told us, and he told us also that this is because in Sweden, we don't have the great infrastructure to take care of all this wool. So, it's cheaper, what I mean, it's cheaper for the farmers to take this wool, dig it into the ground, put all of this energy and work into it, than it is to sell it and get yarn or anything else back. 

April Clark (10:35): That's amazing. Th- (laughs) That, that's what they have to do, versus you know, turn a profit from it. 

Axel Andersson (10:39): Yeah. It's, it's a byproduct. For many of the farmers, it's just a byproduct. And in Europe alone, we really started researching this when we got to European level. But we had no idea that 150,000 tons of European sheep's wool gets thrown away, each year. And then, we thought, what can we do about this? Because we, we can't let this be. And it's a great resource. Wool has a lot of perfect potentials, and it just gets thrown away. 

So, this is really when, when we all got involved. And Isak, you can tell us more about what we actually did with all this wasted wool. 

Isak Lager (11:25): Yeah. So first, we started to research everything we could. What, what kind of markets are we looking for? Uh, what is our consumers, are they looking for? And then, we backtracked to like, the 1800s and looked, what did they use the wool for then? And then, we realized our like, main product. Yes, selling the wool, as is, for like, homeowners to use on their gardens, to provide nutrition, to hold the water, to yeah, to be like natural fertilizer for all of the plants. That was like, the beginning. And then, we just went through every possible idea and tried to figure out, what can we do to use as much wool, as possible? And yeah, it worked. 

Dominika Gałusa (12:21): It worked, and then, you know, after some time, you became the winner of our awards. So, congratulations, it's great to hear how this, uh, how this idea was, was born. 

So, Michel, you worked on developing the mentoring program that is offered to the Ready for Work Award winners. Uh, could you tell us more about the program? And what students can learn from it? And if you could just mention, if you're using any specific tools or methodology from Right Management. 

Michel Debruyne (12:53): Mm-hmm, yes, of course. Um, maybe a little history about the fact that the mentoring program was created after we saw this great young people standing onstage, receiving the Ready for Work Award. And we were wondering like, uh, what can we do, once they are proclaimed the winners of the Ready for Work Award? And because of, at the ManpowerGroup, we care very much about talent, and certainly future talent. We were looking at, okay, what, what can we do? 

And so, we created and designed a mentoring program that helps young talent to become more self-aware. First of all, of their individual potential, as well, as the power of a team. Because that's an important, there is a team onstage, not only one person. So, talent at a premium is what they need to be and to become a game changer. So, we thought, okay, what do we have within Right Management? We're the talent expert. 

So, we created a program that is a mixture between individual sessions, group sessions with different tools in order to help them, let's say, propels even further, their talents that they gradually discovered by doing this program with JA, and try to enforce the good parts of what they already learned from themselves. Help them with certain blind spots and move them forward to their competencies and their capabilities that they will need in the future. 

And so, the tools that we used, that we also use within the Right Management world, first of all, is a personality questionnaire called Birkman. And with the personality questionnaire and they might directly explain that a little bit later, they can learn much more about how their most natural behavior is about, but also, stress behavior, needs, and their interests. Not only as an individual, but also as a team, so we can start building on that in order to follow up on what can they do even to improves as a team. And we all know that team management, but also teamwork later on in life, will be very important because I don't know a company of one person, right? 

So, the other side that we did besides that, is look at, we have other very nice tools for them. The ManpowerGroup Learnability Quotient, we constantly talk about learnability. What is your learnability scale? How do you, let's say, um, nurture your own learnability? And what can we learn, how do you learn? What is your most easy way to learn? How can you nurture that, develop that further? And finally, we look at skill development. We look at what type of skills do you have already. Which one would you like to dedicate a little bit more time on? What would you like to develop? 

And during the individual sessions and especially with the wonderful platform that we have, RightCoach, we offer them also individual coaching on specific topics about skill development and how they can move forward in the team. And then finally, the mentoring program always ends again with a big bang. That means that we have, uh, it's a meeting at the end to just bring everything together in a big puzzle. And see, okay, what did we learn? What are we going to continue to work about, if they start off their own company for real? What are the extra dimensions you need to look for? 

We, sometimes also involve experts from the ManpowerGroup, financial people, marketing people, to support these youngsters in this whole program. So, the mentoring program is really about supporting, helping to grow, give them extra energy, but certainly help them give orientation and direction in their future plans. 

April Clark (17:03): Sounds like a wonderful program. It is really is going deep to ensure that these young entrepreneurs are successful. Isak and Axel, I'd love to hear about your learnings from the mentoring program. Especially, what are some key learnings that you took away both, personally and professionally? 

Axel Andersson (17:19): Yeah. There, (laughs) there were so many, so many great learnings. And, and I remember the startup session, we have this, this picture of the whiteboard we all drew on during those two days. And that was, I mean, it's just so many, it's hard to pick one. But okay, if, if I, can narrow it down to two, it's personal learning, is, there are so many behaviors in life that I mean, I do without thinking about subconsciously. One thing is that I'm, when I need to finish a project or finish a piece of work, I usually get stuck on a certain part of it. And then I continue on that, and then I continue on that. And I don't really come to the phase of actually finishing the whole project. 

And I've known myself for so, I, I mean, I know myself well enough to know, okay, I do that. But I, doing this test like, the Birkman that Michel talked about, it figured out that, okay, my natural behavior when I'm the most pleased, is doing these creational stuff, when I get to sketch, I get to create. And as soon, as I get stressed, and I go into my stress behavior, I move toward more of a doer and a communicator, and organizer, more into what we would call, the center of the square. And so, I, I get more things done when I'm stressed, but actually understanding, and understanding that and putting it into words is, it's, it's been really enlightful. 

One thing also that I take away, especially from those first days, is that we had so many models in that whiteboard. And they were mainly simple models like, square with four quadrants. And I think, I really learned that the strength of simple models, it's, it's that they're so easy to keep in your head. You're actually use them, instead of just having them. 

April Clark (19:18): Right, that's great. Not to get too complicated, to keep things moving along, it sounds like. Isak, how about you? 

Isak Lager (19:25): Yeah. Like Axel said, the Birkman test, personality test was amazing at figuring out who I was, who I am. Like, I always thought I was this. But then, when we had, all answered those like, 50 questions, and it said, "You are this kind of person. You will gain energy from doing this kind of work." I was like, "Huh, this is like Isak Lager on the page." This is absolutely who I am. And I never thought a couple of questions could have that kind of power over, yeah, realizing who I am. So, that was like, yeah, having something that, yeah, this is me. This is who I am. This is what I need to do, to be happy at like, workplace or with, if I start a company or something like that. 

And then, I also learned how I should plan my work days or use my days in general. How I should structure them to make it, so I am as efficient, as possible. Uh, so we had like, a square with four smaller squares in them, where we can say, "This is like, high priority." This is what I want to give to someone else. Something that's not critical, and something that I won't put my, where I'm like, put in thought into. And that has really helped me at my current job. 

April Clark (21:03): Yeah. It sounds like, you both were able to learn how to leverage your strengths. And also, you know, some skills on how to move forward. So, that's fantastic. 

Dominika Gałusa (21:12): I would like to come back to Michel, and ask about any future developments that ManpowerGroup is working on with Junior Achievement? 

Michel Debruyne (21:22): We are constantly looking at new ways of doing things, working on the ways that, that skills are also evolving. There is, uh, the future skill set, because we're getting into the Z Generation already. We were talking about Gen-E and the Gen-E prizes. Uh, and we also doing a lot of white paper research around the ability but also the necessity of the type of skills that we will need in the future. And of course, we're also looking at the development of the skills that youngsters develop already in the early age, which will be also necessary. Because don't forget, we already published that years ago, that 60% of the jobs in 2025 don't exist today. 

And so, if we want to get people future ready with the talent that they need, we need to look and we need to think about what type of future skills are there available, but maybe also are not there yet, but needs to be developed at high scale and at full scale, in order to be ready for what the future will bring. Because many jobs that we cannot even consider of being existent, will exist within a few years. And that's where we are heading for with JA, to look constantly what do we need? What type of skill sets do we need? What type of creativity in skill building? But also, future capabilities are a real necessity in the future workplace. 

Dominika Gałusa (23:05): Mm-hmm. And, you know, you were talking about skills. And I mentioned, talent shortage before. We hear a lot about it. And according to ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Study, three of every four which is 75%, companies have reported talent shortages and difficulty hiring. And it's a 16 year high, which is, which is a bit scary. We have here, our young entrepreneurs, so I was wondering if you could share what skills those young people should be focusing on, to future proof their career? 

Michel Debruyne (23:35): We talked about it extensively, of course, already in their development plan. Let me say that l- and I know, I sound repetitive, but learnability is one of the most important ones. It's the ability to learn fast and quickly. And, usually to entrepreneurs, I give them always the same quote like, "Fail fast, but learn faster." Because we will endeavor in new engagements, in, in new world organization, in a new economic realities that we cannot even start to consider what they will impact, what impact they will have. 

So, you, you need to learn constantly, there will be exploratory exercises. So, learnability is one of them. And another one is problem solving skills because we are in a constant change. That means that through the economic transformation, the energy transformation that we're looking through, but also the cultural transformation that we're going through. We need a lot of problem solving skills, in order to come up with new ideas, to find new solutions. And this together, with a third very important one, is teamwork. We are not able to do it alone. 

So, in teamwork, I mean, coordination, communication together. And all these elements are very powerful together. Learnability, everything that's got to do with communication, teamwork and problem solving skills are critical towards the future. 

April Clark (25:15): That's a great summary. I think of, of what we need to be successful, whether you're young or experienced in your career, right? (laughs) All the lessons apply. 

Michel Debruyne (25:25): Uh, can you imagine, I learn every day. 

April Clark (25:27): Absolutely. 

Michel Debruyne (25:28): Each year, when I do the mentoring program, I get so much back and also for me, as a professional, I learn constantly. 

April Clark (25:36): Mm-hmm. 

Michel Debruyne (25:37): It's, it's something that we need to adapt ourselves to, and then, you will see the fun part of it, and, and the great experience that you will have. 

April Clark (25:45): Indeed, keeps you engaged and excited about what you're doing. Axel and Isak, you know, I'd love to hear your advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs, now, that you are experts through the program. 

Axel Andersson (25:57): Oh, you called me an expert. You called us experts. That's, uh, that puts pressure on us. (laughing) Yeah, but this, this question to give a piece of advice, we've got it so many times. But I think it's, it's the same one that pops up to me almost every time. And that's, that's, it's that communication is key. If you don't talk to each other as soon as it's possible, everything with break apart. I worked so long that I know that anything, any team that h- that starts to crack, even in the beginning, only a little will turn into a disaster. And so, we put together our plan for how we should act, when, when we need to communicate, with weekly meetings and open dialogue. 

April Clark (26:42): That's great advice, and such an important skill. Isak, do you have anything to add? 

Isak Lager (26:47): One thing that we did with our mini company was, we, from the beginning, we aimed really high. So, we also knew that we lacked a lot of competencies, like economics and like, wool in general. So, we decided to ask for help, for the like the biggest ones in our local area, for help. How do we do this? And that's, that's like the one tip I would give, always ask for help because many people have walked the road of creating a company or whatever business you're in. That road is already paved. You don't have to like, reinvent the wheel. So ask for help and you will learn a lot quicker. 

April Clark (27:39): And I always say, you know, having vulnerability is an asset because you're able to really open yourself up to new thinking and ideas, by asking for help and asking for suggestions. So, really good, great advice for everyone. And I thank you both, for sharing. And thank you, Michel, for connecting us with Shear Joy. It was wonderful to have you here today on our 23rd episode of the Transform Talent Podcast. And I hope our listeners enjoyed learning about these amazing young entrepreneurs, as much, as we did. 

Dominika Gałusa (28:06): And to all our listeners, don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review in your favorite podcast listening app. See you at the next episode, bye-bye! 

Outro (28:17): The Transform Talent Podcast, because we know the right talent transforms organizations and helps your business flourish. Talent solutions, business and talent aligned.