Anibal Trejo - Fotolia
The Dutch government is allocating €123m to take existing collaborations between vocational education and industry a step further. With this, the government wants to tackle the labour shortage in engineering and ICT so that the Netherlands can continue to focus on the energy and digital transition.
The shortage of staff in engineering and ICT could hamper the energy transition, digitisation and sustainability, and worsen the Netherlands’ competitive position. Employers in these sectors already took action early this year to address shortages. For instance, the Dutch Data Center Association, Dutch Cloud Community, Fiber Carrier Association and Cyberveilig Nederland presented the Attack plan chronic shortage of ICT workers to minister Micky Adriaansens of Economic Affairs and Climate.
In this plan, the five industries that form the core of the digital sector in the Netherlands show how they intend to tackle the chronic shortage of ICT workers. An essential part of that plan is the interventions the business sector want to deploy. For example, retraining more MBO IT talent and increasing diversity in the industry. The Dutch government has responded positively to the fact that digital employers are taking control, and says it’s eager to join forces to jointly take the lead in the labour market shortage in the climate and digital transition.
Since 2010, the Netherlands has been investing in public-private partnerships to strengthen the connection between vocational education and business. This improved connection is necessary so that people can continue to develop throughout their lives, innovations in the business sector are stimulated and the productivity level of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) increases. Earlier this year, the government announced the availability of a total of €210m in subsidies to increase the innovative power and productivity of companies through better cooperation with vocational education.
“More skilled workers are urgently needed for the transition to a sustainable and digital economy,” said Adriaansens. “Therefore, we must make better use of the knowledge and innovative services from vocational education, and thus further improve the connection between vocational education and the labour market.”
The first contribution of multi-million Euro investment comes from the National Growth Fund, and is part of the Dutch cabinet’s Green and digital jobs action plan. The remaining amount will be allocated at a later stage. With the money, existing public-private partnerships can be expanded, increasing the learning effectiveness in northern Netherlands, for example, by having learners and workers come together on innovations in the Green Transition Northern Netherlands project.
In Brabant, one of the southern provinces of the Netherlands, the Digital Industry Boost consortium is working to accelerate digitisation. In this project, existing cooperation between manufacturing SMEs and education is being expanded. A total of 15 such Dutch partnerships will receive a contribution. A condition for the allocation of the national contribution was that these consortia also receive co-financing for their plans from regional partners, such as government, business or education.
Shortages are mounting
The shortage of technical professionals is becoming increasingly noticeable in the Netherlands. There are long waiting lists to install solar panels, few ICT professionals to be found for innovation in healthcare and a shortage of electricians who can expand the electricity grid. In the second quarter of 2022, there were 86,250 vacancies in the engineering sector and 35,950 in the ICT sector.
To draw up the Green and digital jobs action plan, the Dutch government commissioned research into the shortage of technical staff, which showed that by 2026, 210,900 people will be needed in engineering and 58,300 in ICT. However, the Netherlands previously set the ambition of achieving one million ICT skilled workers by 2030 in their Digital economy strategy. The Green and digital jobs action plan is, therefore, a precondition for achieving this goal.
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- With rumours of mass redundancies rife in the IT sector, many tech workers are applying for other roles rather than risk becoming unemployed.
- Unconscious stereotypes and bias still ensure few girls in the Netherlands choose to study engineering or IT.
The study also showed that the increasing shortage of technical staff is mainly structural due to the ageing workforce. However, there is also a temporary aspect to the issue due to the recovering economy and significant societal challenges. In addition to the shortage of highly educated technicians, more needs have recently arisen in executive positions at the middle professional level.
Another cause is that there is a lot of “leakage”, especially among women. This is because part-time work is not yet commonplace in the technical sector. The leakage comes not only through advancement into non-technical managerial occupations in the technology industry, but more so into non-technical sectors and non-technical occupations.
Replacing these people is made difficult by the limited intake into technical courses and the leakage during and immediately after training. The current labour shortage results in higher work pressure, fewer upskilling opportunities for employees, higher costs and fewer innovation opportunities for employers.
Few measures yet
Labour market tightness is nothing new, but measures to make working in the ICT sector attractive in the Netherlands, such as higher wages, better working conditions and investments in labour-saving innovations have so far taken place only to a limited extent. Salaries for jobs at the vocational level have even fallen, and pay for part-time work lags significantly behind that for full-time work compared with non-technical sectors.
In the Green and digital jobs action plan, the Dutch government makes a number of recommendations, including calls for more labour-saving (process) innovation, a culture change in engineering, generating interest in engineering at a younger age, and a collaborative network for training in ICT and engineering. By investing in partnerships, the Dutch government is taking a step in that direction.
By motivating more young people to study and work in engineering and ICT, and strengthening engineering education, the number of students in STEM education should increase. By allowing employees to engage in Lifelong Development, staff can be saved for these sectors.
In addition, technical employers are making efforts to further improve working conditions and promote diversity and inclusiveness, according to the industry associations’ Plan of action. Besides more staff, government, employers and education also want to increase the productivity of current staff. Innovation and digitisation should increase labour productivity.
Regional cooperation between governments, employers and educational institutions appears to work well in the various measures to reduce staff shortages. With the money granted to 15 existing consortia, the Dutch government hopes to give a positive impetus to the sector’s innovative power and productivity.