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Increasing numbers of Dutch women opt for career in ICT

There’s a shortage of IT professionals in the Netherlands, but the skills gap can be bridged by attracting further women to the sector

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Benelux: CW Benelux: Netherlands sees increase in the number of women opting for an ICT career

Last year, the number of female ICT staff in the Netherlands grew significantly faster than the number of men opting for a job in the sector.

The number of women in the Dutch ICT sector has been low for years, while the demand for ICT professionals remains high. An increase in the participation of women in the sector is strengthening the Netherlands’ leading position in the field of ICT and innovation.

It’s this success which has generated a great need for professionals with ICT skills. But the Dutch education system is having difficulty keeping up with the labour market demand, and shortages in important areas are causing significant problems. As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the need for digital skills has increased further.

To help fill these skills gaps, a national action plan, known as the Human Capital Agenda ICT, (HCA ICT) has received 80m for the next four years, which will see an extra 36,000 potential ICT professionals created.

According to research by HCA ICT partner CA-ICT, which supports the funding of training, female ICT staff enrolment is increasing annually, but the absolute number still lags far behind the number of men. Currently, just under 82% of Dutch ICT professionals are male. Given the enormous demand for ICT professionals in the Netherlands, it is a problem that half of the Dutch working population ignore the profession.

But this appears to be changing. HCA-ICT figures, show that last year, the number of female ICT professionals grew by 6.5%, while the number of male ICT professionals increased by only 1.7%.

“It’s good news that the influx of female ICT workers is increasing,” said Lotte de Bruijn, ambassador for the Human Capital Agenda ICT. “But to close the gap, growth must accelerate further in the coming years. This will ensure a more representative and inclusive sector and is also important to solve the urgent shortage of ICT talent.”

Diversity 

In the Netherlands, some 542,000 people work as ICT staff, 6% of the workforce, and Dutch women seem to be grasping the opportunities of digitisation, which benefits the diversity in the ICT labour market.

One of the objectives of the HCA ICT is to make the ICT sector more inclusive. That is why the budget will be invested in training, retraining or further educating 36,000 extra people within four years. The bodies behind the action plan want to involve some 4,000 extra Dutch companies in this.

Sahar Yadegari, director of VHTO, the Dutch expertise centre for gender diversity in STEM and IT, is pleased with the increase in the number of women enrolled in IT courses and into the ICT labour market.

“This increase is the result of the joint efforts of various parties, including the education sector and the professional field, to enthuse girls about ICT. It is all these efforts together that make the difference.”

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An example of a VHTO initiative is the Computer Science Certificate, which aims to introduce young people to programming in junior grades and encourage them to choose the subject of Computer Science in senior grades.

“Unfortunately, there are few or no projects on digital skills offered in the lower grades of secondary education in the Netherlands,” said Yadegari.

The goals of the Computer Science Certificate are to create gender inclusive education, diversity and social relevance. “We want to make young people enthusiastic about ICT, regardless of their origin or gender. The idea is that subject teachers from, for example, Dutch or Art will give the lessons themselves and involve programming in their subject.”

The intake of both men and women in ICT courses in the Netherlands has increased in recent years, but there are still almost six times as many men as women starting an ICT course.

However, female intake has increased considerably faster than male intake in the past decade. In the period between 2009 and 2019, the number of women starting an ICT course rose by 178%, compared to an increase of 84% for men.

What is striking is that, over the past 10 years, the number of computer science or ICT courses, for pupils to chose in the upper grades of secondary schools, has declined. “In 2008-2009, 60% of schools offered computer science as an elective subject, in the 2018-2019 school year this was only 47%,” said Yadegari.

Digital literacy 

Despite the fact that less computer science education is therefore offered, the number of students who obtain a diploma with computer science as an elective subject is rising.

“In 2019, the elective course in computer science was adjusted to better suit further education and current affairs,” said Yadegari. “This gives young people a broader picture of what you can do with IT, which can motivate girls in particular to choose an ICT course.”

She emphasised the importance of giving all students the opportunity to develop their IT talent. After all, only 5.3% of girls with a HAVO/VWO diploma have chosen IT, compared to 20% of boys.

“The image that IT is more for boys than girls, begins at an early age. To get more pupils, especially girls, interested and enthusiastic about the subject of choice and a subsequent IT course, it is important that children develop digital skills at an early age.”

That’s why VHTO, together with FutureNL, the foundation that aims to increase the future prospects of Dutch pupils by developing digital skills, has started a petition to give digital literacy a permanent place in the education curriculum. 

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