Working in tech: Codaisseur, Codam and TechMeUp are closing the skill gap, but where is the money?

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Business is booming for the Amsterdam startup and tech scene. This rapid growth comes with an equally growing need for talent. And while vacancies remain unfilled, COVID left many people sitting at home without a job. Reskilling these people for a career in tech makes sense for all parties.

Reskilling for tech

No wonder that at Amsterdam-based Codaisseur, Codam and TechMeUp, the number of applications are through the roof. A whole crowd of fresh faces from all kinds of backgrounds is ready to start a new adventure in the booming Amsterdam startup and tech scene. Surprisingly there’s one issue that makes it a lot harder: a lack of money available for reskilling.

Aiming for more diversity in the talent pool of techies is a win-win. More diverse teams are better equipped to build better products for a society in which all kinds of different people participate. But striving for more diversity can also help solve the shortage of tech talent that has been haunting the country for years. It’s hard to find good people on all levels. So it makes sense to look not only at university graduates or experienced techies. 

Codaisseur includes the 50+ crowd

Amsterdam is home to several education programmes that aim to solve – or at least minimise – the skill gap and fill the many vacancies. At Codaisseur they always wanted to make working in tech attractive for a diverse audience. Now, they’ve started Work in Tech, a special programme aimed at people 50 years and older who want to start a new career.

The new education programme is an initiative from French non-profit INCO, while the course material is provided by Google. Codaisseur facilitates the programme and helps students to find a job afterwards. “We wanted to create more diversity in the ages that signed up. Before we launched this programme, the oldest student was 49.” With Work in Tech, Codaisseur aims to have 50 per cent of students be 50 years or older. Currently, that number is roughly 19 per cent, with the oldest student being 61 years old.

From hula dancing to tech

“This is the age group that has been hit hard by the COVID crisis”, says Miloud Ourahou, growth lead at Codaisseur. “The courses we offer for them have a lower entry-level. We don’t want to reskill these people to become hardcore developer. We see there are a lot of vacancies for these types of jobs. Last year, Adyen hired 12 of our students for support roles. The combination of our knowledge and network is what makes it worthwhile.”

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“Our mission is to close the talent gap. We were already doing that for instance for women, now we’re trying to include other groups as well.” The crowd they attract for their courses is indeed diverse, says Ourahou. People with previous coding or engineering experience want to catch up. But also a professional hula dancer and an opera singer, looking for a new career. “During COVID, many 50+ people ended up at UWV (Dutch unemployment office) where they were told to look for a job in IT. That’s where the jobs are. But that is intimidating, they have no idea how any of that works. So it’s good to have an entry-level introduction to the field, to see if it works, and maybe continue from there.”

Codam’s full-time reskilling

The courses that Codaisseur offers are generally short and sweet. For a more intensive deep-dive in the world of tech, people with the ambition of a tech career can turn to Codam. The Amsterdam based reskilling programme offers full-time training of three to five years. 

After graduating, a job as a developer, data analyst or engineer is all but guaranteed. The programme, brought to the Netherlands by Corinne Vigreux, offers peer-based learning. Participants don’t need any prior education or diplomas to enter and Codam takes care of the tuition.

Get in line

If that sounds like a sweet deal to you, you are not alone. Codam has no problem attracting new students. “There is a waiting list”, says Yasmine Najja-Brouwer, communication and marketing manager of Codam. However, reskilling people for work in IT is one of the goals of Coda. They also put a lot of effort into increasing the diversity of the people that get a job in tech. 

One of the hard targets Codam sets itself is to have 50 per cent of women signing up. According to Najja-Brouwer. That goal has been met. So now it is time to step it up. “It’s not enough. We want to fully reflect the population of Amsterdam.” That proves to be tricky. Even without paying tuition, committing yourself to a full-time education programme of a couple of years is not something everyone can afford.

Financial woes for students

“The current education system in the Netherlands makes it really hard,” says Najja-Brouwer. “We are not recognised as an official educational institution. We are not accredited, which means our students can’t apply for government support like student grants or loans. So if you come from a job in hospitality for instance and are motivated to reskill yourself, you won’t receive any financial support and won’t be eligible for student housing.”

These structures make it hard for Codam to fully tap the pool of motivated talent out there. Najja-Brouwer: “This is also something our director Roos Peters is fighting for. Doing a lot of lobbying and participating in the political discourse. We need new laws, to make sure other educational institutions like ours also entitle you to financial support. It’s a complex puzzle with many different parts.”

Assistance programme from Codam

For now, all Codam can do is take away the financial burden of some of their students. They do so with their assistance programme, offering housing for students that really need, or cheap travel for students living further away. They even offer jobs on their campus so some students can cover their cost of living. “But these options are not endless”, adds Najja-Brouwer.

TechMeUp’s interest-free loans for students

Enter TechMeUp. A fund specifically for students struggling to make ends meet while re-educating themselves for a fresh new career in the booming tech scene. This fund offers students an interest-free loan to cover the costs of studying. The student pays back the loan once he or she has found a job. 

The loan is not just to cover the costs of tuition, something that is not an issue when signing up for a study at Codam for instance. TechMeUp can also provide an advance on the cost of living. “After doing a lot of research, we noticed something in the market”, says Nikky Hofland, managing director of TechMeUp. “Many people withdrawing from these courses struggle with the financial part.”

Focus money

That is why TechMeUp not only offers an advance on rent, groceries or whatever is necessary to fully focus on the study. “For instance, we can offer an addition to the statutory minimum of benefits, so students can live a normal and worry-free life while focussing on their study. There are many financial things one can run into that make switching a career very hard.”

However, the funds of TechMeUp are also not infinite. They launched with 375,000 euros made available by corporates and governments. The ambition is to scale up to 2 million euros in two years. COVID threw a wrench in those plans. “After the second lockdown it was very hard to raise money”, says Hofland. “A lot of people sign up for our loans, but right now we can only offer it to about 10 per cent of them.” Currently, TechMeUp has raised around 500,000 euros.

‘It’s an odd time’

“We’re super happy that we got 25 people back to studying. Over the next month, four of them will graduate. One has already found a job. But we’re also disappointed that companies don’t want to invest. It’s a very odd time, in which companies don’t want to take any risk, while at the same time there are so many people ready to make a big change in their lives.”

To attract more funds, TechMeUp is about to launch a new campaign to draw attention. Hofland indicates it will be in the style of the legendary ‘Think Different’ campaign of Apple. Or in this case, the message will be ‘hire different, invest different’, says Hofland. “We want tech companies to look differently at what kind of people they hire. Consider more women, people of colour or people of 45 years or older. But also consider someone that has had a career as a stewardess and is now reskilled to data analyst. Also consider investing in people that, due to COVID, are struggling financially.”

Role models for the future generations

There’s a big shortage of tech talent right now and we don’t have time to wait for the youth to fill up that gap”, says Hofland. Aiming for a diverse crowd right now will pay off in the future. “The average age of students that enrolled through us is 34 years old. It’s a very diverse crowd, from uneducated to university graduates. Many of these people are parents. They are the perfect role models for their kids.” Having mommy reskill herself to a techy, will serve as an accelerant for the future generation’s interest in working in tech, says Hofland. “Every year that we wait for this, is one year too many.”

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Dennis de Vries

Writes about technology for as long as anyone remembers. Hangs out with Apple, Samsung and Sony, but is just as interested in the Google-killer you're currently building in your parents' garage. You can reach him via [email protected]

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