Match programme brings African tech talent to the Netherlands

While Europe has a shrinking labour pool, Africa has a burgeoning young population that is increasingly tech savvy. The International Organization for Migration's Match project connects Nigerian and Senagalese tech talent to Benelux companies in need of skilled professionals.

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The tech sector in the Netherlands is poised for growth, with spending on IT this year forecast to rise past pre-pandemic levels as enterprises migrate applications to the cloud, but there's a catch: technology leaders, like their counterparts in other sectors and in other European countries, face a shortage of talent to meet their growing needs.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a 174 member-state, inter-governmental organization, is offering help. Through its Match project, it is bringing African tech talent to the Netherlands as well as Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy — other EU nations that are suffering labour shortages that IOM believes could benefit from the programme.

Enterprises can send vacancies for tech and other types of jobs to the Match team in their respective country, which will then launch a recruitment and selection process in Nigeria and Senegal in conjunction with employment agencies locally. Technical skills and knowledge of English and French are tested and a shortlist of 5-10 candidates is presented to the inquiring company. Companies then complete the process via Skype interviews and company-specific tests, with no obligation to hire.

A win-win for Europe and Africa

The pre-selection work that the EU-funded Match project does is free of charge to the hiring companies. The ultimate aim of the project is to contribute to development in Africa, according to Mia McKenzie, a project coordinator at IOM in The Hague. “But it does have a dual purpose. There’s  a win-win element, where Europe also benefits from this project because we strive to address labour shortages,” McKenzie said.

While enterprises in all economic sectors are eligible to use the project’s resources, and various  professions can be accommodated, demand for tech talent is high. “We do tend to go down the path of ICT more than other sectors,” McKenzie said. “The ICT professions in the Netherlands have been crying out for more staff for at least 10 years.”

The programme launched with high hopes at the beginning of 2020 but quickly found, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that it had to adjust expectations and be creative in order to deal with international travel restrictions.

The project’s original concept was to contribute to African development through circular migration: African professionals would come to Europe, and then after a period of time bring the experience and skills they gained through their work there back to Africa. As such, companies using the Match programme would have to commit to hiring workers for a six-month to two-year tenure in their home countries in Europe. (They could also opt to hire workers permanently, though that process would take place outside of the Match programme.)

With travel restrictions in place, the Match project had to pivot, McKenzie said. It is now prepared to recruit African professionals for remote-work jobs, as well as Africa-based positions for European companies expanding on the continent. And while travel restrictions remain in place, European companies may hire workers to start jobs remotely, in Africa, and bring them to Europe once the restrictions are lifted.  

Women achieve top test results

One goal of the Match programme was to promote selection of women, and so far the candidate recruitment process has exceeded expectations in that regard. "We were hoping that 30% would be female and from the beginning I thought 30% in the highly skilled ICT sector is very ambitous but I'm pleasantly surprised to find that especially Nigeria is a powerhouse in terms of females in ICT," McKenzie said.

Aldelia, a recruitment firm that works with IOM on the Match project, conducts tests to select candidates for its talent pool, and the top five are always female, McKenzie noted.

One of the biggest challenges for the Match programme, though, is general lack of familiarity with African talent. “In the Netherlands a lot of ICT companies are very familiar with, and may even have the internal recruitment infrastructure to recruit from, Asia — from India, from Bangalore, from Pakistan — but when we talk about Nigeria [or] Senegal, it is a huge blind spot for Dutch companies,” McKenzie said. “They don’t think about Nigeria, maybe they don’t even think about Africa, as a source for talent.”

Even so, as European enterprises face increasing difficulty finding homegrown workers, a growing number of  recruitment and outsourcing companies are specializing in finding professionals in Africa and, like the Match project, are working to raise the profile of African tech talent. One such company is Caspar Coding, a recruitment company with offices in Amsterdam and Nairobi.

 “Some people we have to train more people in STEM but I find the biggest driver of the shortage is just that we’re a shrinking population, and that is why Caspar Coding focuses on Africa,” said Sebastiaan Tan, the company’s founder. Africa has a young, burgeoning population, Tan points out, adding that the average age in Africa is about 20, while the average European is over 40 years old.

Caspar Coding started in 2017 recruiting in Kenya, due to the country’s socio-political stability and quality of education, but lately has been doing more business in Nigeria. Tan notes that the country has the largest population on the continent, “and in the last year they’ve had a stable mobile network so I can make decent WhatsApp calls and pitch jobs and interview people.”

“People who qualify for knowledge migration typically have four years or more of experience and experience working in agile teams,” Tan said.

Coders for web development are frequently sought, particularly front-end, UX and UI developers, Tan said.

IT skills in demand in the Netherlands

Otherwise, according to a recent report from the UWV, the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency, the skills most in demand in the Netherlands ICT sector included: system administrators; developers with skills in Java, C#, PHP, SharePoint and .NET; network administrators and engineers; business intelligence specialists and data scientists with knowledge of SQL, Python and R; data warehouse developers; and security specialists.

In addition to technical requirements, “there is a necessity for soft skills that cannot be overstated,” IOM’s McKenzie said. The Match programme can arrange training and provides support for Nigerian and Senegalese job candidates so they know what to expect when they arrive in Europe, and avoid culture shock, she noted.

While the pandemic has initially restricted some of the Match programme’s original goals, it has also sparked creativity, for example leading the project to broaden its scope and take advantage of the increasing reliance on and acceptance of remote work, which can act as training for job candidates. The programme has been funded through 2022, but there are hopes that it will be extended.

As McKenzie noted, “With or without the pandemic there are labour shortages in the ICT professions so a lot of companies in need of talent tell us we don’t care where individuals come from, they can come from Mars, as long as they can come into our company smoothly and start working.”

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