The festive launch of the TechConnect programme was all about the Amsterdam region as a tech hub. How can you attract new tech talent? And how can you increase diversity in the tech scene?
The launch of the TechConnect programme took place during State of the Region, an event at which the most important stakeholders in the Amsterdam region came together to look ahead to the future. ‘It’s a day of celebration,’ said Board director Nina Tellegen from the stage at Rockstart, a workspace for startups. ‘It’s also an important moment for us to consider where we stand as a region. What do we do well, and where are the opportunities for improvement?’ It’s a question well suited to the aims of TechConnect, a programme that started with a bang on 20 June, and will run for the next four years.
TechConnect is a pioneering programme aimed at strengthening and diversifying the tech ecosystem in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, by providing the right education, training and reskilling, and accurately surveying data on the tech sector. Amsterdam’s economy is flourishing, and the demand for new tech talent is growing, but the supply is lagging behind. Where are the opportunities for improvement?
‘TechConnect aims to reduce the mismatch between the supply and demand of tech talent,’ says Viktor Bos, Challenge Lead for Talent of the Future at the Amsterdam Economic Board. ‘It’s a big challenge. The number of tech jobs in our region will grow over the next two years to around 20,000. But already more than 50% of the present 10,000 vacancies can’t be filled.’ There’s mainly a lack of programmers, data analysts, growth hackers, tech support specialists and AI experts, and the numbers needed are only set to increase over the coming years. TechConnect’s ambition is to increase the number of people in the tech sector by 50,000 over the next four years. ‘We want to make the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area the most important tech hub in Europe,’ Bos says.
‘It’s really important to make tech jobs as attractive as possible,’ says Ruben Nieuwenhuis, Private Lead at TechConnect. ‘How do you reach this group of people, including women and people over 40? And how can we train and reskill future tech talents?’ You can only achieve the changes needed for the future with a hands-on mentality, says Nieuwenhuis: by coming up with the right solution to each individual issue. That’s the only way to make Amsterdam Europe’s prime tech hub.
TechConnect has therefore devised a set of 12 schemes, from contacting people over 40 (WorkforceX), to increasing the number of tech teachers in school (Teach4Amsterdam), and attracting top talent (Tech Recruitment). To put these initiatives into practice, partnerships between tech companies, education and government are needed.
For the initiative Teach4Amsterdam, Marco van der Werf works to encourage IT graduates to spend the first two years of their career as information science teachers. ‘This is how we can make up for the shortage of IT teachers,’ he explains. ‘A lot of people will be needed over the next few years.’
‘At Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences I do see these kinds of hybrid lecturers working part time, but fewer fulltime,’ one participant points out. ‘It must be pretty hard to run a company and teach at the same time.’ Another person responds, ‘You also often see that guest lecturers are flown in.’ ‘We hope that courses increasingly opt for hybrid lecturers like this,’ says Van der Werf. ‘It’s a good interim solution.’
Dennis Berkhof of Closer2Tech discusses how to encourage women and young people from an immigrant background to opt for a job in the tech sector. One of the two women around the table with him says, ‘I think the important thing to communicate is that you can learn anything. You want to know, “Am I good enough? Do I need to retrain?”’ The other female participant, a policy specialist for the City of Amsterdam, agrees with her. ‘Focus on that group of women. Recently I was at an event on housing. It was only men in grey suits. It makes you wonder if maybe the right women don’t exist? Or maybe we’re just not looking hard enough?’ Chairman Dennis Berkhof points out, ‘In Eastern Europe, you see that the proportions in the tech sector are quite different. Nearly 40% of the programmers there are women.’ The policy specialist responds, ‘I’d like to contribute ideas. Recently the municipality has been deploying me as a facilitator. I think we can certainly contribute to something like Closer2Tech.’
Closing the TechConnect event, Ruben Nieuwenhuis said it certainly wouldn’t be the last. ‘We need all of you to achieve our aims and ambitions. That’s why we’re here today!’ The large frame in the room with separate pieces coming together to form a whole was a symbol of TechConnect, Nieuwenhuis explained. So write your name by one of the schemes, and let us know how you’d like to contribute!’ A few people also added ambitions: Provide showcases for new inclusiveness -> bridging the gap (Bob & Dorus, Doghouse). And below this, the words of Jessica van Aken: Try to make tech sexier to attract more women and diversity.