We need everyone in Tech! (and this is how we’re going to do it)

According to the international real estate services provider Savills, Amsterdam is number four on the ranking list of best tech cities in the world. Wonderful news! The tech ecosystem has experienced enormous growth in the last four years, partly inspired by initiatives such as StartupDelta and StartupAmsterdam. However, the downside of the success is that, in addition to the economy, the inequality of opportunity has also grown. So let's not cheer too loud or celebrate ourselves too long. The last four years were the easy part (part I). The truly difficult issues are still ahead of us.

Growing fast or thriving together?

The choice that lies before us: further growth vs thriving together.

The starting point should be that tech is (again) of and for everyone. Currently, that’s far from the case. The lack of diversity is enormous, with all the ensuing consequences. Melinda Gates aptly articulates this: “if we agree that artificial intelligence will take care of our elderly in twenty years’ time, do we want it to be programmed by a white teenager from the US?”.

Tech jobs are still concentrated mainly within and around Amsterdam. This pushes prices of houses and business premises to unprecedented heights. This not only drives teachers and artists out of the city, but will even hit startups in the long run. The spectre of a ‘European Seattle or Palo Alto’ could be prevented if we work to distribute the growth into the Metropolitan Area. To Purmerend, Almere, Haarlem, Zaanstad, Hilversum and other regions in the Netherlands. These regions have a huge (talent) potential that is now hardly being addressed.

A key to diversity and equal opportunities is to provide everyone with access to tech education, and tech jobs as a result. In addition to ‘white teenagers’, our commitment should be to educate and re- and upskill women, young people from underprivileged neighbourhoods, people with migrant backgrounds, employees from small and medium-sized businesses and large groups of people over 40 (‘Generation X’).

Why access to tech education is so difficult for certain groups

After countless conversations, experiments and events organised at several locations in Poelenburg (Zaanstad), Purmerend, Amsterdam Southeast and New-West, we became increasingly aware of the obstacles for certain groups.

A small selection of the experiences and examples of the past months:

During neighbourhood visits in deprived areas, we often heard they lack role models. None of their brothers, sisters or cousins are working in IT or tech, “and my father would prefer me to study law or medicine, since those are the respected jobs within my family “. We were regularly confronted with uncertainty about their own levels of learning: “but in order to code I need to be good at maths and English right?!”.

Another example comes from Techionista -a provider of data science training for women- which received an email from a single mother who indicated that she could not stop her job in order to follow the training because the childcare costs would become too high. Exemplary is also the number of young immigrant women from Amsterdam West during the open day of a coding school, ran by a fancy tech incubator just around the corner from where they live. The turnout was exactly: zero. This is a clear example of ‘using the wrong communication channels’.

But there were positive examples too.

For example, together with Codam, we organised a check-in event in the Poelenburg district. The first registrations for Codam college followed promptly. This is something we need to scale: events in our target neighbourhoods, at which tech educators present themselves.

In Molenbeek in Brussels, we met Ibrahim, a local entrepreneur, who is successfully managing a tech hub and coding school in the middle of his neighbourhood. The so-called Molengeek is a place where previously unemployed young people start their startups and gain digital skills at the coding school. Its pedagogical-didactical model appeals to young people with all education levels and allows them to perform well. We aim to bring MolenGeek franchises into our neighbourhoods in the Netherlands.

And our personal highlight was the visit of ROC Zuidoost at the Johan Cruyff Arena during TechConnect Week (October 2018). 80 vocational students listened breathlessly to Ajax’ data analyst, who told them about his tech job and education, in the locker room of their heroes. Showcasing tech jobs on location, so that young people can get a better picture and idea of the job, is something we aim to do more often.

In the meantime it has become clear to us why certain groups do not yet participate in the ecosystem, and which buttons need to be pressed to get the desired effect.

In our opinion, these are: distribution, self-confidence, preconditions, discipline.

(Lack of) distribution, self-confidence, preconditions and discipline

We’ll start with a short explanation of the obstacles.

  1. Distribution problem.
    The target groups mentioned above often do not recognise themselves in the advertisements and communications by tech educators and there aren’t enough role models (in the vicinity). Neither is there an overview available of all tech jobs and skills needed. Inclusive recruitment is still only being applied by a few companies.
  2. Low self-confidence.
    As long as tech jobs will be associated with mathematical and English language skills, many will not bother to showcase their qualities in ‘solution-oriented thinking’ or ‘learning-to-learn’. Tech courses and jobs are available at all levels and with various profiles. From vocational level to higher education, with or without a diploma from a previous education. Let’s give everyone the confidence that there’s a tech profile that suits them.
  3. Missing preconditions.
    Practical preconditions – such as the lack of financial means to enrol in a tech education or to purchase the hardware and software – stand in the way. It happens too often that a student, due to poverty at home, does not have the right laptop, which could lead to being expelled from a work group. Experiences of this nature could eventually lead to him or her dropping out. Schools in underprivileged neighbourhoods often don’t have the facilities to include digital skills in the curriculum.
  4. Lack of discipline.
    The discipline of being on time, doing your homework and continuous learning are often motivated by a social context. Bad influence from friends or the situation at home could be at the expense of this discipline. A tech job requires a lot of discipline because of the character of the job: rapidly changing content and skills required.

What to do!?

But how do we ensure our target group becomes aware of all the good stuff the tech educators, digital skills trainers, and employers who seek tech talent have to offer?

These are the TechConnect initiatives we have already started. Will you join in?

tekkieworden.nl – The guide to studying and working in tech. For each level, (V) MBO, HBO and WO (vocational to higher education), we offer an overview and insight into education and job profiles in tech. A tool for students, parents, career counsellors, and youth workers.

Teachforamsterdam – A collaboration between the industry, secondary education and the teacher training programme at the University of Amsterdam / VU University has the goal to train 200 (hybrid) computer science teachers within four years. A hybrid teacher combines his or her job in tech with teaching IT at a school.

MolenGeek (in Amsterdam) – The opening of MolenGeek franchises in Poelenburg (Zaanstad) and Amsterdam Nieuw-West. Delegations from Nieuw-West and Poelenburg visited Brussels and conversations to launch a franchise in their neighbourhoods are in full swing. An actual tech hub in the middle of various Amsterdam-based communities. Goal: two branches to be opened in 2019.

TechEduFonds – Setting up a fund that makes resources available which financially facilitate everyone that wants to re- and upskill themselves. The TechEduFonds provides a facility for tuition, living and preconditions. Consider, for example, pre-financing training fees, retaining benefits, maintaining a childcare supplement, providing space for so-called Income Share Agreements, and so on.

‘Digidoeners’ – In every class, every week – together with FutureNL we will be teaching digital skills at every primary school in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. We provide the facilities in the classroom and support the teacher.

TechConnect Liaisons – In municipalities, neighbourhoods and communities we establish liaisons that are the switching point between the community (neighbourhood or district) and the TechConnect instruments. This way we can organize special Tekkie Worden Workshops, like we’re doing in collaboration with Studiezalen in early March 2019. Young people learn to build a website in six lessons and get acquainted with the job profiles in tech.

SME Digital Power – The SME (MKB) Digital Power Program focuses specifically on SME’s and their management. With this initiative we show that it is possible to teach digital skills to SME entrepreneurs and management in a practical way. This happens, among other things, in collaboration with De Koepel in Haarlem, where ‘future proof MKB’ is a focal point.

Workforce Pact – A collaboration of 30 corporates in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area that commit to re-skilling 20,000 employees into data-driven professionals. The cooperation aims to achieve acceleration, economies of scale and the encouragement of mutual mobility.

TechConnect Week – One week dedicated to tech jobs and digital skills, with trial lessons, company visits, guest lectures, job markets and assessments. The first edition took place in October 2018. We are going to repeat this in the coming years and make parts of TechConnect Week available for other events, such as TNW Conference. This way, new target groups are motivated to attend existing tech events.

The initiatives above have now been set-up.

Other initiatives such as ‘Inclusive tech recruitment’, ‘re-skilling the underemployed to tech jobs’ and the ‘accelerated scaling of new educational approaches (e.g. BIT-Academy, Make IT work)’ are still being developed.

Over the past four years ‘doing the ordinary, unusually well’ was sufficient; it brought us tremendous growth. Yet in order to thrive together, more is needed. We have to go beyond our natural borders to bring worlds together. We will have to reach out and invite.  We have four perspectives to understand in our work: diversity, poverty, education and economic development. We must persevere to remove all obstacles.

We need you. We need everyone in tech. Will you join us?

Onwards, Viktor Bos & Ruben Nieuwenhuis

Note: the authors don’t consider tech as a sector, but as a (growing) part of all economic sectors. Tech jobs can therefore be considered at hospitals, governments, SMEs, corporates, startups, and so on.

About TechConnect

The Amsterdam Economic Board is the initiator of TechConnect. Together with dozens of stakeholders, the action programme has been developed to bridge the mismatch between supply and demand in the world of tech in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area over the next four years.

TechConnect will direct and help scale-up the many initiatives that will educate more people and get them to work, for example by introducing more diverse groups from society to tech. The ambition of the TechConnect programme is to provide a healthy breeding ground for tech talent development including sufficient capacity & educational levels – throughout the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, and to set an example in terms of diversity.

We want the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area to be seen as The Tech Talent Pool of Europe with the most diversity and inclusive character.

In concrete terms: in addition to the regular inflow, 50.000 extra people need to be activated in the next 4 years.

31 July 2019

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