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Revolution in thinking about the labor market

This article appeared in Het Parool on 13 July 2019

“Everyone is talking about diversity and equal opportunities,” says Corinne Vigreux, co-founder and board member of TomTom, “and yet there is often a lack of decisiveness in this area. The economy of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is going strong. Unemployment has not been this low in years. Yet many young people are still left out, while the tech companies are struggling with a labor shortage. That hole must be closed. And TechConnect will help enormously with this.”

At the beginning of 2018, the Amsterdam Economic Board, a partnership of companies, knowledge institutions and governments from the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area that strives for a smart, healthy and green region, started the development of TechConnect , a program to increase diversity and inclusion in ‘tech jobs’. The goal is ambitious: within a few years, 50,000 people must have received additional training and found a job. “That will work,” says director Nina Tellegen of the Amsterdam Economic Board, “especially now that Booking.com, TomTom and Rabobank have joined. Incidentally, we get a lot of response from the entire business community. Because all companies today are tech companies and all face the problem of finding digitally skilled personnel.”

“It is important to us that TechConnect brings in people from the underrepresented groups,” says Barbara Baarsma, director of Rabobank Amsterdam, who immediately puts an objective of her social agenda on the table. “The economy is changing rapidly due to the growth and development of new technologies. The impact of this on people, organizations and society is major. By setting up TechConnect, we can give thousands of people, mostly from socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, people over 40 and SMEs, a new career, for example as a programmer, data analyst or growth hacker.”

Gillian Tans, until recently CEO of Booking.com and chairman of the booking website since 1 July, argues that a ‘revolution’ in thinking about the labor market is desperately needed. “Booking.com is constantly looking for people to fill jobs. There are currently about 9,000 vacancies in and around Amsterdam in this area. If Amsterdam wants to remain vital, we must ensure that the courses are geared to these times and that all parts of the population are given a role in this development.”

ING Economics Department already calculated in 2017 that the technology industry will need around 120,000 new workers until 2030 to maintain the economy. Tellegen, of the Amsterdam Economic Board: “We are talking about one of the big themes for the Amsterdam region, because the tech jobs are concentrated here. TechConnect, which consists of numerous initiatives, runs right through society and brings tech into the metropolitan region. This is the catalyst that guides these changes and ensures that underrepresented groups have access to IT studies so that they can storm the tech labor market in the metropolitan region. This is how we bring all parties together.”

An influential example for TechConnect is Molengeek, a Brussels start-up where young people from the problem district Molenbeek are successfully trained to work in the tech industry. The Belgian concept is under the name TechGrounds (‘free for the unemployed’) brought to the Netherlands, initially to the Amsterdam Public Library on Osdorpplein and later also in Haarlem and in the Zaanse district of Poelenburg. Tellegen: “We address young people directly, by visiting schools and with, for example, the TekkieWorden.nl campaign. It is imperative that lower educated girls and boys also understand that their future may lie in tech, that this is indeed their world. We notice that there are quite a few prejudices. People think too quickly: that is too difficult. Or: that’s not for me.”

Tekkies from all over society

Vigreux runs, along with TomTom, a global company with offices in 30 countries and about 5,000 payroll employees. “Amsterdam, however, remains our base. And it is precisely here that there is a dire need for a diverse and inclusive ‘tech scene’, for techies of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds. These people determine the future. That is why it is so essential that the ‘tekkies’ come from all corners of society. The future belongs to everyone. ”

Previously, Vigreux founded Codam, a full-time programming course in Amsterdam where tuition fees are not required, prior education does not matter and the doors are open day and night. Baarsma also insists on the power of education. “Inequality of opportunity has increased in the last ten years. In Amsterdam, the problem is even more serious – the neighborhood in which you live and your parents’ background have a major influence on the final school results. I find that shocking. I see an initiative like TechConnect as a motor of self-reliance. What is disadvantaged is made promising. We don’t have a day to lose in that respect.”

TechConnect should also become a safety net for people who have had a breakdown or missed a turn during their school days. Baarsma: “There is a chance for everyone to conquer a place in the labor market through tech education. I repeat: for everyone. From unlucky people and hard-learning students to classic nerds and Sunday children.”

Vigreux: “Digital skills are required for almost every job these days. In that sense, TechConnect is also a wake up call: if you want to work, you have to focus on digital skills. Otherwise you are offside.”

The digital revolution has outpaced education. Even in primary school, the offer must be structurally broadened with daily lessons in digital knowledge. Problem: the teachers also need to be retrained. Vigreux: “Our TeachForAmsterdam program supports 300 ‘hybrid teachers’. These are teachers who combine an IT job with teaching; they work for an IT company for three days and work in education for two days, and that teaching is partly paid for by the companies.”

Baarsma: “There was an intern here recently. He wanted to work at a bank and therefore went to study Economics. I said, ‘My dear. If you want to work at a bank, you really have to do something with data and IT. ‘ There is a lot of ignorance in that area. Only one in 10 schoolchildren takes a good look at job opportunities. Choices are based on prejudices and romantic clichés.”

“50,000 jobs, we won’t do it for less”

By joining TechConnect, Booking.com – which employs 130 nationalities – underlines that the company is part of Amsterdam and the region. “In that light, it is our job to ensure that the people who live here can use their talents. That they have the opportunity to do so. For those people themselves, and for the ecosystem.”

An advisory board will be set up, with representatives from Booking.com, TomTom, Rabobank Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Economic Board, which will monitor TechConnect’s progress. Tans: “The demand for labor is growing day by day. That is why the aim to help 50,000 people find work is so great.”

Baarsma: “Our economic growth is good and we are consistently in the top five in lists of the happiest countries. But in order to give our children and our grandchildren the same positions in those lists, we need structural growth capacity. Where does that come from? Labor supply and productivity growth. The new generation and digitization play a crucial role in this. ” Then, without a doubt: “50,000 jobs. We don’t settle for less.”

Read the article in Het Parool here

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