ICT Skills: Intensive coding courses for refugee integration
Submitted by: Priya Burci, CEO of Powercoders International
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Introduction to the project
Switzerland (Zurich and Lausanne) and Italy (Turin)
2017 – present
To date, five programs have been run in four Swiss cities. Given that in Switzerland we have a financially sustainable model, there is no end date expected for the program. We are pursuing international expansion and are opening a program in Turin, Italy in October 2019. In the next year, we are planning to expand to other cities through a franchising model.
The objective of refugee self-reliance is pursued through the offer of free and intensive coding courses and a subsequent work placement, allowing them to not only gain valuable, market-relevant skills, but also work experience, which vastly increases their chances of employment, financial autonomy and stability. With a 97 per cent success rate for internship placements and a subsequent 60% job integration rate, this good practice touches directly upon one of the central needs of refugee integration: jobs and livelihood.
The Powercoders course has been customised and improved over the years to produce a job integration program that addresses the major issues encountered by refugees when it comes to securing employment. This not only includes technical skills, but the crucial dimension of soft skills, cultural barriers, a lack of legitimacy in the eyes of employers and access to a network, both social and professional. It also broadens the support base beyond actors who have traditionally been active, bringing in the local IT sector and their community and offering them not only the chance to get involved and better understand local refugee issues, but also offering them a solution to their struggle to find IT talent.
Given that refugee unemployment and an IT talent shortage are phenomena that persist across borders, the solution is scalable and relevant in most countries, offering refugees and the companies that hire them a win-win solution.
The second objective this good practice addresses is that of easing the burden on host communities. Through its successful integration of refugees into well paid IT jobs, the program allows them to depart from the position of needing support from the local governments, be it accommodation, financial support, integration efforts and funds. Instead, the beneficiaries become productive members of their host communities and are offered the opportunity to integrate socially and professionally into their host society and its economy.
In addition to this, integrating refugees into the IT sector allows for a societal impact that can have wider positive implications and benefits. It has an impact in the refugee community, acting as a source of role models, inspiration and confidence, including beyond the IT community, defying stereotypes and increasing diversity in the workplace. Additionally, the program works hard to ensure that women are a central dimension of the recruitment push, combating the negative stereotypes associated with women in the IT sector.
- To sustainably integrate refugees into the IT labour market, allowing them to achieve financial autonomy and self-reliance.
- To alleviate the burden of financial support and integration efforts for local governments.
- To increase diversity in the IT sector and wider community engagement.
- To increase industry engagement in refugee issues by addressing the skills shortage that exists in a rapidly growing IT sector.
- Financial (employee salaries, classroom space, food and transport for participants)
- Material (food and transport for participants)
- Technical (computers during class and other relevant platforms (eg. Github, Slack, Trello etc.)
- In Switzerland: SEM (Swiss State Secretariat for Migration), various Swiss Foundations, Adobe, Impact Hub, digital Switzerland. Employers include UBS, Migros, Swisscom and various local IT companies.
- In Italy: Accenture Foundation, Reale Mutual Foundation, Le Wagon Italy, Lenovo and in collaboration with UNHCR Italy
Challenges & how they were overcome
A first challenge was recruitment of participants that are adequately motivated and disposed to pursue an intensive coding program. This was overcome through rigorous recruitment process with online applications and a subsequent in-person recruitment stage, with technical tests that measure analytical dispositions to learning code and a social interview, assessing the level of motivation, interest and trauma.
A second challenge was to address all barriers to professional integration, including technical competence, soft skills, cultural comprehension, self-confidence etc. in order to best prepare participants for a foreign labour market. This was overcome using a curriculum focused on teaching coding and independent learning, with weekly social and business skill workshops, soft skills feedback throughout program and encouragement of participants to interact with IT community.
A third challenge was to recruit companies willing to offer an internship and fulfil their requirements. To address possible misgivings, companies and participants are brought together mid-program for a Career Day to meet and introduce themselves. Subsequently the company requests students to attend interviews and once participants have secured an internship, the remainder of the course is dedicated to customising their skill set to company requirements.
A final challenge to successfully integrate the refugee into the workplace, both socially and technically, in order to increase their chances of sustainable employment. In order to address this, once a participant begins the internship, they are coupled with a volunteer called a "job coach", who meets with them on a bi-weekly basis and offers them insight and support for any issues they may be encountering during the internship. Monthly class meet ups are also organised for the first six months of the work experience.
Results of the Good Practice
- Powercoders offers intensive computer programming classes to refugees over a three month period and the opportunity to do a paid IT internship.
- Refugee graduates are in an exponentially better position to find and keep a well paid IT job, enhancing self-reliance. The courses have formed 84 refugees and have a 97 per cent internship placement success rate and subsequent 60% job integration rate.
- The program vastly improves refugee self-reliance and financial independence, addresses the skills shortage in the IT sector, eases pressure of financial support on host countries, increases diversity in the tech sector and combats stereotypes.