Studenten van TechMeUp

In 2030, on the Dutch market alone there will be an estimated 120,000 tech jobs for which no suitable people can be found. So to fill the current and future jobs in tech and IT in the Netherlands, we need a lot more people than are applying now. But it’s not just a matter of ‘more’, it’s at least as much a matter of ‘more diverse’. There is a great need for candidates from all population layers, all levels of education, and all cultural and ethnical backgrounds. And oh yes, please equally divided between women and men.

“When we got together with six private tech colleges two years ago, we identified a common problem,” says TechMeUp‘s Nikky Hofland. “When they looked into their classrooms, they saw a different group of people than when they looked outside.” In other words, not only is there a shortage of tech talent, but the sector is also facing a diversity problem. “And the remarkable thing is that although there was a lot of diversity in their applications, these people invariably withdrew before the course would start.”

When Hofland heard about it, she immediately took action. “I started calling all those people who had applied but ultimately did not show up. Almost eighty altogether. I really wanted to know why they had dropped out. Their stories were variations on one theme, I found out. One of them told me she hadn’t been able to save up for the lesson. Another said that the municipality would stop his benefits during the study, yet another didn’t dare to sit in school for six months and therefore not be able to fulfill potential assignments. All financially determined arguments, in other words.”

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    Hofland knew what she had to do: arrange a financial boost so that most of the dropouts and all those candidates in similar situations could still go to school. This marked the birth of TechMeUp, a foundation that grants microcredits as interest-free loans to people who can use them to retrain themselves for a tech profession. “They only pay back this loan when they find a job. Which, of course, we want to help them with as much as possible.” The focus, for now, is on all those people who are momentarily barely visible in the tech sector: women, bicultural students, and those older than 45. 

    TechMeUp officially launched late last year and has now raised nearly half a million euros from a range of companies, foundations, and individuals. Some 27 students have actually entered school thanks to TechMeUp. To expand that further, a campaign is now running under the motto “invest differently, invest in another person” with more explanation around the importance of the initiative. “At the moment we can give a loan to 10% of the applicants. We have to turn away an awful lot of good people, which is very unfortunate of course. We want to help 250 students this year. That means we still need about 750,000 euros.” 

    The ASML Foundation is one of those organizations that now support TechMeUp’s ideas. In the near future, thanks to their financial support, about 30 new students will be able to start work at one of the affiliated tech colleges. According to Christel Keizer, member of the board at ASML Foundation, the initiative fits in very well with the goals of the foundation: “In everything we do, we look at people who do not get the opportunities in life that you would like to give them. People who would otherwise be left behind. Within our goals, we have a clear focus on education.” 

    The ASML Foundation has now been in existence for 20 years. Its inception was made possible thanks to a package of ASML shares and still, the company accounts for one and a half million in support each year. “But we make our choices autonomously; ASML has no direct influence on that.”

    Keizer says TechMeUp is a typical example of a project her Foundation is happy to help with. “If you look at what else we do, TechMeUp fits very logically in that list. Think of the Weekend School, for children who have no role models at home to look at for their school and career choices. Or our activities around low literacy that we help the libraries with.”

    For the time being, the ASML Foundation has still plenty of work. “The shortage of people with a technical background must be addressed constantly and by various means. By making young people enthusiastic about technology, by making education more visible, by attracting talent from abroad, and through Life-Long-Learning pathways where it comes down to smart retraining. The job market is constantly changing and there are jobs that are disappearing for all kinds of reasons, but the need for new tech personnel is only increasing. With TechMeUp, you give people the opportunity to retrain; the more that happens, the better it is.”

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    Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.