Digital Frontrunners spotlight: The Netherlands

The second Digital Frontrunners workshop on future skills recently took place in the Hague. The three-day event brought together over 40 policymakers, industry representatives and experts from countries in the Benelux and Nordic regions to support the creation of better skills policy. The workshop was developed in collaboration with the Dutch government, allowing us to learn from pioneering approaches from The Netherlands that are enhancing the capacity of the government to build a workforce fit for the future. In this spotlight blog, we highlight some of these innovative initiatives and programmes operating in a volatile labour market and influenced by rapid technological change.

Digital skills in The Netherlands

The Netherlands has long been leading the way when it comes to digitalisation and responding to it. According to the EDPR 2017, nearly the whole Dutch population (92 per cent) makes use of the Internet, and the digitalisation of public services was among the most advanced in the EU in 2017. When it comes to technical skills, 5 per cent of the Dutch workforce are ICT specialists, which is higher than the EU average of 3.5 per cent.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is overseeing the digital transition and investigating its effect on education in The Netherlands. Meanwhile, The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy has been responsible for building the Dutch Digital Agenda, which was set up to digitalise the Dutch economy in a number of ways: through education, knowledge and innovation; developing open and high-speed infrastructure; increasing security and trust; providing more opportunities for entrepreneurs; and digitisation of a number of sectors.

The Netherlands’ skills system also takes into account the wide range of stakeholders that are involved in delivering an effective digital strategy. The Netherlands National Coalition builds on the existing ECP – Platform for the information society, which is an independent and neutral platform in which government, industry and social organisations work together and exchange knowledge about the impact and responsible application of new technologies in Dutch society. Almost 200 ECP members work to bolster the digital skills of the Dutch people in all age groups to boost innovation and labour productivity.

The Netherlands is a Digital Frontrunner with excellent digital infrastructure and highly educated professionals; but like many European countries, the country is experiencing a number of future skills challenges. We outline below some Dutch initiatives that are addressing these challenges in two key ways: building new models of cross-sectoral collaboration between knowledge institutions and businesses; and by making technical professions more attractive and accessible to everyone.

A nationwide multi-stakeholder approach:


The Dutch Technology Pact (Techniekpact) [1] is a government initiative established in 2013 between 60 public and private stakeholders. Its members have agreed on 22 national actions to create a sustainable workforce for the technology sector. Renewed two years ago, The Dutch Technology Pact 2020 is a joint public-private initiative that focuses on training more technical talent and making employment in the tech sector more attractive. Today, the Pact is supported and funded by its partners, including national ministries, the education sectors, the Dutch regions, industry and employer organisations and labour unions.
In the Netherlands, the number of STEM graduates is persistently among the lowest in the EU. At the same time companies face difficulties in finding highly qualified people. This has resulted in demand for technical professions, which is currently at its highest in the last two years. According to the the Technology Pact Monitor 2018 [2], there was an estimated 66,400 vacancies in technology at the beginning of 2018, compared to 41,200 at the beginning of 2016.
The goal of the Technology Pact is to produce 30,000 additional technology graduates a year to meet the growing demand for skilled technologists in the country. This is supplemented by ensuring that all of the 7,000 primary schools in the Netherlands will have science and technology on their curricula by 2020. Today, the Pact provides a benchmark for governments around the world that want to deliver a well-trained workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. The Dutch Technology Pact has three essential action lines which are: Choosing technology - more school pupils choosing to study in the field of technology. Learning in technology - more school pupils and students with a technical qualification progressing to a job in technology. Working in technology - retaining technology workers in the technology sector, and finding alternative jobs in technology for people with a technology background whose jobs are under threat or who have been marginalised.
The Technology Pact is a joint initiative of Central Government, the organised business community, the trade unions, the education community and the regions. The Pact partners with three ministries: The Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. The governance is carried out by a National Steering Group (LRT) together with Liaisons (executive group). The so-called triple helix approach of university-industry-government relationships is successfully influencing the Pact and its collaborative ecosystem. It considers the whole pipeline from education through to employment, with the aim of ensuring that enough skilled workers are constantly available.
Today, there are 1.59 million technically qualified people in the Netherlands. Unemployment among people with a technical education background has decreased considerably in the past year: from 5.1% in 2016 to 4.0% in 2017. In addition to this, the percentage of unemployed technical women decreased by 2.2 percentage points from 8.6% to 6.4% between 2016 and 2017. To boost training and schemes to help redundant workers find alternative work, the government has earmarked €300 million to co-finance the plans for the Dutch Technology Pact 2020 [3].

Visit Techniekpact website

The Dutch National STEM platform (PBT)

The Dutch National STEM platform - “Platform Bètatechniek” or “PBT” - is an independent executive organisation created by the Dutch Government. The platform was established in 2004 by the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Climate, Education, Culture and Science and Social Affairs and Employment with the aim of supplying the Dutch economy with enough technical and ICT skills. [4] The work of PBT covers the entire education chain from discovering and training future technical professionals to retaining them in the tech sector. One of the domains that PBT is working on is the Technology Pact and the regional coordination and implementation of it. In addition, the platform implements various national programmes that support the objectives of the Technology Pact.
Due to the rapid digitalisation of jobs, there is still a large shortage of well-trained science technicians, teachers for technical subjects, and STEM students. The regional Pacts make the Dutch system flexible as the sub-regions are able to develop their own policies that suit their purposes and employment goals. This bottom-up approach allows for rapid responses to the changing needs of the labour market.
The goal of PBT is to secure continuity and sustainability in skills development and to make sure that the supply of technical professionals is in balance with the demand on the labour market. It seeks to reduce the fragmentation of initiatives by measuring their impact and to foster an ecosystem where collaboration and co-creation are supported.
The Netherlands is divided into five administrative regions and various sub-regional pacts which all have their own coordinators. PBT brings together parties in the region; translates policy into activities; and monitors and manages their implementation. In addition to this, the work consists of priority setting and communication with the government. The impact of specific programmes is monitored by collecting regional data in a Technology Pact Monitor [5]. What makes PBT’s approach unique besides the regionalised implementation scheme, is that it utilises existing financial instruments like public-private partnerships in funding its operations. Centres of Expertise and Centres for Vocational Innovation are two examples of this.
The Technology Pact Monitor currently measures the quantitative impact of the PBT in teacher shortages; the supply in higher and pre-vocational education; and maps out new challenges in skills development. For example, the proportion of students entering science in higher education in the Netherlands rose from 21% in 2004-2005 to 29% in 2016-2017. In academic science and technology education, the intake of students increased to 36% in the 2016-2017 academic year. The qualitative impact, on the other hand, includes new approaches in policy innovation and crossovers, such as Zorgpact (Health Pact) [6] that is building on the successful Tech Pact. Besides this, PBT as a platform model has already been successfully adopted by other countries including Denmark that launched a similar model [7] by four national ministries earlier this year.

Visit the PBT website

"The National STEM Platform is an ecosystem where we try to work more together"

Beatrice Boots - Director, The Dutch National STEM platform


Katapult is a constantly growing network of initiatives and partnerships between education and business. Launched as a pilot of seven centres in 2011, the network currently includes around 150 partnerships between employers, research institutions, educational institutions, and the government. The Katapult centres operate in the vocational (centres of innovative craftsmanship) and higher education (centres of expertise) sectors. Following the success of the pilot, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science announced additional funding for the establishment of more centres. Today, the network is running on grants and government support that fund up to a third of the total budget of the project.
The skills shortage in STEM is a pressing issue especially when certain jobs are under threat from automation. It is essential to future-proof The Netherlands in skills development and accelerate and intensify the processes around this by maximising the interaction between vocational education and practice.
The objective of Katapult is to improve regional co-operation between educational institutions and business, ensuring that the labour market is supplied with appropriately skilled people. Working closely with the industry, Katapult aims to engage more companies to invest in their human capital by training and retraining their staff.
Katapult seeks to improve cooperation between companies, universities of applied sciences, and vocational institutions by linking its partners to successful private-public partnerships. This is done, for example, by professionals from the business community who provide lessons and business model sessions. Or by students who do research for an SME during their training. In order to support the growing network, Katapult organizes regular meetings to share knowledge, experiences and good practices and visits the centres throughout the year to hear if they have questions or need support.
There are currently 50,000 students and 4,000 teachers involved in the Katapult network. However, there is still a lot to do as only 5% of Dutch students are being educated in this new model and only 6,000 of the 1.7 million companies in The Netherlands are involved. The ambition of Katapult is to scale-up and thereby increase the number of knowledge institutions and companies involved in public-private partnerships.

Visit the Katapult website

"The ‘Katapult way’ – building public-private partnerships between knowledge institutes and businesses – has shown to be an effective way to bridge the skills gap"

Dominiek Veen - Project Manager, Katapult

Supporting the access to talent:

Roc Mondriaan

ROC Mondriaan is a regional training centre founded in 2008 in the Haaglanden region with offices in The Hague, Delft, Leiden and Naaldwijk. The centre connects teachers, students and cybersecurity businesses to teach critical skills in the Netherlands. Roc Mondriaan offers a broad range of courses in secondary vocational training, adult education, company training and job-oriented training. The courses cover key topics such as cybersecurity awareness, building up to more technical modules like coding and data ethics. The partnering companies help to make degree programmes better and relevant to labour market needs.
Information technology is one of the key industries in the Netherlands [8] and the country is Europe’s hotspot for leading IT companies. One of the growing sectors - even on a global scale [9] - is cybersecurity. It is currently bringing a lot of international agencies which are setting up their businesses in the Netherlands as “a gateway to Europe”. Due to this, the demand for cybersecurity-related skills is expanding rapidly. However, a shortage of trained cybersecurity specialists is imminent and is expected to evolve further due to the deficient number of students graduating from ICT programmes [10].
The institution is aiming to diversify the cybersecurity role by attracting new talent and focusing on underrepresented groups in the labour market. Some examples are women, who represent only 10% of the cybersecurity workforce and people with autism - a vulnerable group with high IQ often missing out on formal education. As the profile for cybersecurity specialist changes, supporting businesses to diversify is crucial as not everyone is looking for the same skill sets at the same time.
Through partnerships between organisations addressing skills gaps, the institution teaches 18,000 vocational students and 4,000 adult students and serves as an alternative way of generating talent through training groups. The 200 secondary vocational training courses, for over ten different professional sectors, in 28 different schools ensures that there is something for everyone to choose from. Besides reskilling the current workforce and retraining the talent in the Netherlands, the institution recognises the need to attract new skills around the world and has created a curriculum of international courses such as summer schools taught in English.
According to The Annual Report in 2017 [11] around 94 percent of the alumni have received work or continued with another education course after completing a degree at Roc Mondriaan schools. Currently ROC Mondriaan has around 2,100 employees involved in the courses and the number keeps growing.

Visit the Roc Mondriaan website

“The cyber security is broader than people usually think – taking cues from sociology and technology, it can be seen as a complex group of competencies”

Vincent Raphael - Project Leader, [email protected]

Make IT Work

Make IT Work is an initiative by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, retraining highly educated non-STEM graduates for the IT sector. In parallel it also provides businesses with new digital talent. The programme was launched in 2015 by leading ICT companies, the municipality of Amsterdam, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Economic Board and funded by the government until September 2017. Currently Make IT Work is independent and sustainable as funding comes from the participating companies who recruit the graduates.
In The Netherlands it is very hard to find highly qualified people, especially with relevant digital skills. Getting more talent on the labour market and delivering a more equitable digital economy means that the jobs in tech need to be made as attractive as possible, especially for the groups that might be excluded from them.
Make IT Work seeks to address immediate skills gaps by retraining highly educated and motivated people for the IT sector. The programme aims to enable a more inclusive and diverse digital economy by working with underrepresented groups in the labour market.
Run by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Make IT Work teaches graduates a new degree in IT or technology in 11 months, fitting four years of material in less than a year. The courses take place four times a year and include Software Engineering, Business Analytics, and Cyber Security. Getting employment for participants is the goal for each training course. To guarantee the employment, the programme has a careful selection process and the candidates are chosen based on their competencies and diplomas. Besides this, companies meet the candidates and decide which of them to put through the training. At the end of the course, a job fair introduces students to companies looking for hard-to-find, highly trained staff. To keep the talent pool up to date, Make IT Work also talks to the companies to check that the curriculum matches labour market demands.
So far over 250 graduates have taken part in the Make IT Work training programmes and all of them have currently a job in the participating companies. In parallel, 81 companies are signed up for the programme as employers and the most remarkable contracts include the three biggest industry associations within IT; CIO platform, Netherlands ICT and Hague Delta security. In June 2018, The European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society selected Make IT Work as the model project for teaching digital skills at the Digital Assembly event in Sofia, Bulgaria [12].

Visit the Make IT Work website

“A career in IT can be an exciting opportunity. Fast-track training from the Make IT Work programme in the Netherlands is helping university graduates without advanced IT skills achieve that dream"

Baukje Vetter - Account Manager, Make IT Work


Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Programme and Research Support, Digital Frontrunners

Karoliina supported Digital Frontrunners, Nesta's programme for future skills.

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