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Netherlands aims to benefit from Brexit in IT talent search

The Netherlands is positioning itself as the ideal home for ambitious IT professionals from across the world

A shortage of IT professionals is looming for the Netherlands, and the race is on to lure developers, admins, programmers, and other skilled staff. The country is even hoping to capitalise on a Brexit-induced talent exodus from the UK.

And the skills shortage is about to get worse, according to Dutch labour agency UWV. It predicts that a growing number of industries will see their growth limited or even slowed down by a lack of skilled IT staff. The Netherlands’ technology and ICT industries are already experiencing such problems, according to UWV research into current vacancies.

Other industries expected to suffer include healthcare, construction, education and science, which are all substantially IT-driven. UWV said its market research suggested that the growing skills shortage could be a serious problem for years.

One solution is for organisations to train or retrain existing IT personnel and educate job seekers. To this end, UWV has formed a public-private partnership with Microsoft and other IT suppliers and IT training companies. The aim is to show out-of-work IT people which areas of expertise will increase their chances in the job market.

Another solution, suggested by Jaccques van den Broek, CEO of recruitment company Randstad, is to look abroad. Van den Broek called for a proactive immigration strategy to attract highly skilled IT people to the Netherlands and to convince tech talent to settle in the country as it gears up for economic growth.

Consumer confidence and spending are rising cautiously in the Netherlands, according to national statistics organisation CBS. Companies are expand their activities, mostly responding to business opportunities, but also in anticipation of further economic growth. This fuels a growing need for tech talent.

But economic growth can have a less desirable side-effect for employers because workers in in-demand professions, such as IT, can go job-hopping.

Brexit opportunity

Meanwhile, a fairly large opportunity is opening up for the Netherlands – Brexit. Or, to be more precise, the continuing fear, uncertainty and doubt in the UK caused by the country’s looming departure from the European Union.

And it’s not just top chefs, academics and leading financial technology (fintech) players that are looking to leave the UK. The fintech exodus is already happening, according to Simon Black, chief executive of fintech firm PPRO Group, which is moving to Luxembourg after considering Ireland, the Czech Republic, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Dutch are certainly aware of the benefits of their proximity to the UK, their fluency in English and their IT-friendly landscape. Netherlands capital Amsterdam is flaunting its startup community, while university cities such as Eindhoven and Enschede extol their innovation abilities.

Local guide and marketing campaign iAmsterdam has proclaimed that the Netherlands has the world’s second-highest productivity potential, according to findings from global consulting firm KPMG. And the Amsterdam metropolitan area has, for the third year running, attracted a record-breaking number of new international companies.

Amsterdam’s startup environment is partly fuelled by the legacy of traditional IT companies. IBM’s former headquarters in the city is now being used as a startup breeding site by B. Amsterdam. The centre has already filled up the 28,000m2 of the old IBM office and a nearby building. The second building, called B.2, is dedicated to innovative startups in the internet of things (IoT), HR technology and fintech industries. This year a third location will be opened, adding a further 12,000m2 of space for startups.

Geek gatherings

But Amsterdam is not the only place in play – and it’s not just about office space. Tech conferences, geek gatherings and other initiatives are helping to promote the Netherlands as an IT nation. One such event is Nerderlands, an open source concept produced by Appsterdam and StartupAmsterdam, which brings together tech communities in Amsterdam.

Nerderlands was launched last summer, when it attracted 7,500 visitors, it is now gearing up for the 2017 event.

Another example is the IoT Tech Day in Utrecht, which not only features presentations and practical workshops about the IoT, but also covers growing IT areas such as virtual reality and augmented reality, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and security. This event is smaller than the citywide Nerderlands gathering, but is growing impressively.

The fourth edition of this annual event hopes to attract 1,400 visitors, growing from 1,300, 550 and 330 in the previous three years. Organiser Ramon Wieleman told Computer Weekly that it is not just Dutch developers who will be attending. “The trend is that our audience is becoming more and more international,” he said, estimating that the ratio of international to Dutch visitors will be 20/80 this year.

Welcoming talent

The expansion of the Netherlands’ IT market and the growing need for tech talent has also driven Wieleman to launch Open Tech Day, an open source-focused event that will be held immediately after the established IoT-focused event.

The Netherlands’ push to lure tech talent not only aims to profit from uncertain job prospects in the UK, but the changing climate in the US. Donald Trump’s presidency has cooled the welcome for outsiders, which threatens to hit the country’s IT industry. An open letter signed by more than 200 startups, entrepreneurs, investors and innovators protesting against the immigration measures taken by the Trump administration has set out the dangers for the US’s startup community, IT sector and economic prosperity.

“The global pre-eminence of the US technology sector has been driven in large part by immigrants and their creation of and contributions to American startups,” the letter said. “Many of the most successful technology companies were founded in whole or in part by immigrants, including Uber, Palantir and Tesla. As of last year, more than half of the startups valued at $1bn or more in the US were established by immigrant entrepreneurs.”

The letter suggested that the Trump presidency is sending a message that the US is no longer open for innovation. “Every individual turned away or dissuaded from making America his or her home represents a potential employee or entrepreneur who will no longer be able to contribute to the success of companies in America,” it said.

Clearly, this is another opportunity the Netherlands is hoping to take advantage of in its search for skilled techies.

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