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Make IT Work: Tackling IT skills shortages in the Netherlands

Ronald Kleijn is the founder of Make IT Work, an initiative that is tackling the mismatch of skills and jobs in the Netherlands by retraining non-STEM graduates with sought-after IT skills. Here, Ronald tells us how the initiative started, what sets it apart from other retraining programmes, and how it is working to tackle future skills challenges.

Tell us a bit about Make IT Work. Why did you set it up and what problem are you looking to solve?

Make IT Work is a retraining programme founded by the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. It was started to address a mismatch in the labour market: on the one side, there were a lot of job openings; and on the other, a lot of people who didn’t have a job (who did have a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD), who weren’t able to find stable or suitable work.

So we started the programme, and we run it through a recruitment selection process: matching candidates with a future employer; agreeing a job for them upfront (if they complete the programme successfully); retraining them and then helping them to start their new career within IT.

We started around four years ago, in 2015, and since then we have retrained around 400 people and helped them to get a new job in IT.

How did Make IT Work get started and how was the project initially funded?

In The Netherlands, we have ‘economic boards’, where universities, companies and municipalities work together on different issues within the labour market.

The Amsterdam Economic Board put out a call for ideas; we submitted an application and, together with 10 other applicants, we were supported as part of one big plan for the region of Amsterdam.

In total, 11 projects were funded for two years. So from 2015-2017 we were co-funded: 50% from grant funding and 50% from the participating companies and applicants. Since 2017, we’ve been able to run it independently, without any grants or funding. We run the project through the University of Applied Sciences, with income coming from two sources: the companies and the participants.

How does the programme work and what sets it apart?

Make IT Work is funded by participating companies and participating candidates. It’s not a regular activity of the University of Applied Sciences (normally we offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and we are running this as a new kind of retraining programme).

We have a lot of commercial competitors which offer retraining programmes or bootcamps, but they almost never give a job guarantee upfront. So we separate ourselves by arranging the job beforehand.

A lot of work goes into the recruitment and selection process, and matching each candidate with an employer in advance, but this really helps people to make a step in their life. And that’s also what gives us our success rate: 92% of people that start our programme go on to start a new job.

The participants in the programme are highly motivated to retrain because they know that if they do their best now, they will have a job in five months. So the atmosphere in the classroom is really positive. They’re very ambitious, so it’s also a lot of fun to retrain and this is part of the programme’s success, I think.

Also, Make IT Work is effective because it deals with a concrete question, and it offers a solution for a problem which is - at least in the Netherlands - everywhere: the lack of highly trained IT staff. So that’s common in all the regions, and it’s nice to work together with other universities with the same goal, to tackle the same problem and to do something for society.

What challenges have you faced in getting the project off the ground?

Initially, the project had a different structure, with a different set of risks and costs. Make IT Work was originally founded by several partners, including a number of ICT companies, and implemented by the University of Applied Sciences. However, after we secured our grant funding, we had to start over from scratch because our partner companies no longer wanted to participate.

This was a bit disappointing: the plan was there, the funding was in place, and we just had to execute the plan. However, this prompted us to re-evaluate our model, and ultimately to create the successful structure we have in place today.

Initially, businesses were asked to pay the retraining costs in advance - and to offer a job contract to the candidate upfront. We would then retrain the candidate, and they would start a job. Understandably, companies didn’t want to make this commitment before they knew whether the candidate could actually do the job.

We went back to the drawing board and came up with a different model. Now, we ask for a letter of intent from the company and the candidate to confirm they want to work with each other, and it’s all on the condition that the candidate succeeds in retraining. Only then will the candidate receive the job contract and the cost of retraining (from the company) is paid to the university.

The division of risks between all parties - the companies, the participants and the university - is more balanced than it was previously. And that’s why it’s working now.

What do you think is the main selling point for participants and companies?

The main reason why people want to participate is the job guaranteed upfront. And it’s a clean business case; it’s run by a non-commercial organisation and it leads to success.

It’s also the numbers. At the start, we really had to convince companies to participate and candidates as well. But now, we have a proven success rate, and that helps in attracting new companies and new candidates.

Some 97% of those we’ve retrained are still working in IT. If you start in our programme, you also have a high chance of finishing it successfully; 92% of the people that begin the training complete it and go on to get a job.

How has Make IT Work grown over the last four years and what are the plans for the future?

We have 105 participating organisations from governmental to big consultancy firms to smaller and medium-sized enterprises. The age of the people that participate is from 21 to 62, with an average of 31, so most of the people have some kind of experience in working and a clear wish to retrain in IT.

We started in Amsterdam but we are also running it now in Groningen and Leeuwarden, in the North of the Netherlands. Next year, we’re planning to launch in the Hague, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Arnhem, and by the end of 2020 we’ll have national coverage of the Make IT Work programme.

There are different ways of scaling and different motivations to scale. What does scaling look like for you?

There are two different types of scaling in Make IT Work: one is geographical, offering the programme in multiple cities around the Netherlands, and the other is through the number of curricula we offer. We started out with software engineering, and business and data analytics. Now we’re working to expand into three other areas, because we see that companies are approaching us to ask us to create a curriculum around those topics, such as front-end development.

We’re also looking to scale up in terms of the content of our curricula, and that will lead to more companies and more participants.

To what extent do you adapt the programme for new regions?

When we start, we take the core programme that we have been running now for four years. Of course, it’s not exactly the same programme as four years ago because we change it every year after talking to the companies that participate.

What we offer to new schools that are going to run it, is that they can start with the core programme as it is, but alongside that we ask them to develop a curriculum which is more localised.

For example, the city of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands has a high concentration of high-tech companies, like ASML, that makes machines to make chips for computers, but also companies like Phillips, that need a different type of developer for more embedded software.

So first the region starts with the programme as it is, and once that’s up and running they will develop a new curriculum. And each new curriculum is then also offered to the network of universities that are participating.

But crucially, the process of recruitment, selection, and matching - that the candidate knows beforehand that they will get a job contract if they succeed - and the way we train people is quite fixed. And that’s what gives us our success rate.

To find out more about Make IT Work, visit the initiative’s website or get in touch with the Digital Frontrunners team. You can also learn about more initiatives like this one by signing up to our newsletter.

Follow Make IT Work on Twitter: @ITOmscholing and Digital Frontrunners on @D_Frontrunners

Ronald Kleijn is the founder of Make IT Work

Ronald Kleijn tells the Make IT Work scaling story at the most recent Digital Frontrunners workshop


Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Curriculum and Content Manager

Juan was a Curriculum and Content Manager supporting the Digital Frontrunners and Global Innovation Policy Accelerator programmes.

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Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Senior Researcher, Future of Work and Skills

Georgie worked on the research needs for the Digital Frontrunners and Futurefit programmes.

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