Corona crisis offers opportunities within ICT, especially for women

01/09/2020

The shortage of well-qualified ICT staff has been a factor in Dutch business life for some time now. The corona crisis adds to that. More and more companies are experiencing difficulties in filling ICT vacancies. High time to turn the tide and increase the pond from which ICT talent can be fished. According to Renate van Oosten, education manager at Fontys University of Applied Sciences and responsible for the retraining programme Make IT Work, the key lies in retraining, especially of female candidates. 

Research* by De Staffing Group among 1,188 Dutch HR (final responsible) managers shows that more than a quarter of Dutch companies have great difficulty filling ICT vacancies. Especially companies with more than 500 employees indicate that the search for new ICT colleagues is difficult. And over a quarter see this shortage as a serious threat to the future of their organisation. When the corona crisis started, there was a small dip in the number of ICT vacancies, but in the meantime there has been an enormous increase in the number of open vacancies.

The corona crisis has therefore only increased this shortage of ICT personnel. This is partly due to the increased demand for online solutions for organisations. After all, employees who are forced to work from home because of corona must have the right, secure applications to do so. Applications that allow them to hold secure meetings via video calls, for example. Logically, therefore, there is now more demand for specialists in the field of infrastructure and security. It is precisely those companies that are involved in this area that are growing rapidly during this period. However, the supply of ICT specialists lags behind demand for the time being. And we need to change that structurally.

“Now is the time to invest in education”

This issue was discussed by education manager Renate van Oosten with professionals who also deal with this subject on a daily basis. She also spoke with Robbert Lexis, Senior Advisor Employer Services at UWV Werkbedrijf Zuidoost-Brabant. "Lexis is experiencing a clear discrepancy in the market. Demand continues to rise, but at the same time organisations are cautious in their hiring policies. Projects are postponed and several (re)training projects are delayed. Whereas now is the right time for organisations to invest in education. For example, someone who doesn't fit the profile now can be a great addition to your organisation in the future, is also his conviction. In his own words: “ICT is the profession of the future and it will only become more so. If you want to keep up, you have to invest in it. Tension on the labour market remains particularly tight in South-East Brabant.” Like me, Lexis sees no other solution than to put more effort into retraining available new ICT talent."

Under certain conditions, the UWV therefore has an additional or retraining budget available for interested parties. In addition, Minister Koolmees of Social Affairs and Employment will allocate €50 million for further training and retraining in the coming period. Renate continues: "Every worker and job seeker can then follow free development advice from a career advisor in order to adapt to the new reality. A development that is as beautiful as it is necessary and in line with my vision. Because I am convinced that programs such as our own Make IT Work can provide a better balance between supply and demand. Purely in terms of the numbers of new ICT people, but, at least equally important, also on the gender distribution within the sector."

More women, more female perspective
Although the number of women working in ICT is currently increasing slightly (from 80,000 in 2018 to 94,000 in 2019), it still lags far behind the number of men working in ICT (425,000 in 2019). This has been a thorn in Renate van Oosten's side for years. "All the more so because the deficit seems to be mainly based on the age-old prejudice that hangs around ICT: too nerdy, too technical, nothing for women. Women quickly think that ICT is complicated and has nothing to do with human interaction. While that's not the case at all. Luckily, the corona crisis has adjusted that picture a bit. Everyone now sees how important ICT is to keep our society in touch and in motion. As part of that increasingly digitised society, ICT should, in my opinion, also become more of a reflection of that society. With more women and more female perspective. At Make IT Work, we're on the right track: of our first group of candidates was as much as 80% female. The regular part-time bachelor's degree programme at Fontys School of ICT is also increasing: registrations in general have doubled and women in particular are very interested in the study programme."

More women in ICT is not only a matter of a more equal division of labour, it also provides a welcome deepening of the ICT profession. That is also the experience of Jan Broeken, managing director of IT-Workz, ICT partner for educational institutions, with whom Van Oosten frequently collaborates in the context of Make IT Work.
Within his organisation, Broeken always tries to find a good mix of men and women. This is especially visible in the consultancy branch of the organisation, a segment that is becoming increasingly important within ICT, Broeken also knows. According to him, ICT is no longer staring and programming at your screen for hours. Guiding users on a strategic and functional level is becoming increasingly important. And he's absolutely right about that.

Big leap forward
It is precisely this noticeable shift from technology to guidance that not only makes the ICT profession much more attractive to women, but also works the other way around. So-called soft skills such as communication and cooperation are becoming increasingly important. And let that be precisely the skills in which women usually excel. More women in ICT is therefore not only a remedy for the shortage of personnel, but at the same time offers a major leap forward in the development of this ever advancing field. Or, as Sarah Bartholome said, one of the current Make IT Work candidates against Van Oosten: “Women definitely have added value in the ICT world. We look at things differently, think differently, and that different perspective is very refreshing.”
The message to enterprising Netherlands is therefore: don't think too easily about recruiting ICT people. Chances are that the reality of the shortage will also affect your organisation. Retraining pathways are more necessary than ever in this day and age, as is a wider, more gender-diverse pond to fish out.