As the world goes increasingly digital and tech-based, one skill is becoming more and more desired – cyber skills. Across the world, in fact, there is a shortage of workers who have the skills and qualifications to help keep driving tech businesses forward and those working in software development and coding roles are highly coveted.
It’s reported that the EU is struggling with a shortfall of about 1.8 million ICT experts. It has meant that the demand for tech workers has skyrocketed and now, the EC’s Digitial Decade Programme has shared a goal to employ 20 million ICT specialists by 2030.
To help meet this growing need and nurture a highly-skilled digital talent pool, Budapest-based Codecool and Poland-based Software Development Academy merged earlier this year. The result is a company that has a presence spanning CEE, including Poland, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia and Albania.
Since 2014, Codecool has been on a mission to build a global talent network, develop individual tech skills and connect businesses around the world with digital experts. It offered educational programmes and connects tech workers to develop skills and create a tech talent network. Meanwhile, Software Development Academy (SDA) has been operating since 2015, offering training tailored to the needs of the ICT market.
What has been the vision of Codecool?
József Boda: Codecool was established in Hungary 7 years ago and currently it is present in 4 countries: Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. We have more than 2,000 graduates and over 300 corporate partners. Codecool wanted to make coding accessible, and a career in tech achievable for anyone. We aim to solve the digital talent gap by connecting our skilled graduates with businesses, and to make lives better with tech education. We offer longer courses than SDA, and we offer a job guarantee for our flagship 10-month Full-Stack Development training.
And what about SDA?
Michał Mysiak: Software Development Academy (SDA) is headquartered in Poland and has a presence in 6 countries: Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Albania. With more than 15,000 graduates and over 100 corporate partners, the company offers a variety of shorter IT courses that prepare candidates to enter the IT industry. At SDA, students can gain new skills in just a few months, change their professional life and start working in the industry of the future. We believe that a job in the tech industry is something everyone can land, as long as they’re interested in the IT world.
How does the merger make sense for both companies? And what is the long-term strategy of doing this?
József Boda: While we have different approaches to tech training, we have the shared goal of changing people’s lives through digital skilling and making a career in tech available for anyone. By joining forces we can train – and thus change the lives of – a much higher number of individuals.
We are bringing our revenue streams together through our new business model and reducing risk while scaling. Now both Codecool and SDA graduates will be able to enter the job market with an IT qualification, and this will help us to provide talented resources to corporate and public sector bodies that are missing skilled technical employees. There’s a growing need from both the business and government sides for upskilling and reskilling on a mass scale – it is among our strategic objectives to address this effectively.
Michał Mysiak: When we started, we used to work for start-ups and scale-ups. Today, we have a huge variety of clients, from local/global software houses, financial institutions, also governments, for example, the American Albanian Development Foundation. The demand for tech talent is exponential so part of our strategy is creating a digital hub, an immediate macro project to address the skills gap in a number of central European countries.
We have already started to think about employer needs in the future and believe that we have the scale and the flexibility to deal with different specifics to match different employees’ profiles. Our new joint company allows us to offer a broader spectrum of courses and also to customize and fine-tune our training offering country by country.
By working together we can grow faster than ever before. It also allows us to develop courses more efficiently. In the longer term, we’ll create a significant IT skills training hub and a great candidate resource pool for all European countries, not just the central ones.
What reach will the company have?
Michał Mysiak: We’re expanding our geographical coverage and strengthening our presence in the following 8 countries: Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Romania, and Albania. We’re also planning to open new offices in other countries in the upcoming period. Our capacity for training will increase to 15,000-20,000 individuals per year and we’ll have 17 reskilling pathways – so we’ll be able to transform more people’s lives for the better.
Together we have more than 400 corporate partners – thus, our students will have more options to choose from and find the right match after finishing a course. We also plan to partner with even more businesses and positively impact our digital society.
In this digital world, coding and digital skills are highly valued and highly sought after.
- Why is this?
- And what exactly are ‘digital skills’?
József Boda: Digitalization has become part of everyday life in most traditional industries, such as logistics, commerce, manufacturing, and even personal services such as beauty care or legal advice. The pandemic has further accelerated the rhythm of digitalization and the need for digital skills. Now we are seeing digital solutions implemented all the time. Using, developing, analyzing, and visualizing the data that moves within digital solutions requires digital skills.
There is basic computer literacy at one end of the digital skills spectrum, and at the other, NASA programmers. Neither end is our area of expertise. But in between, there is a broad spectrum with countless branches and specializations.
For us, digital skills include both hard skills such as programming languages and frameworks, and soft skills such as collaboration, presentation, and time management. For employees in the digital era, it is crucial to have both to succeed.
Do you think there’s a talent shortage when it comes to coding and digital skills/know-how?
Michał Mysiak: Absolutely, there is a global shortage. The number of hard-to-fill vacancies has been on the rise and the rising global demand for tech-oriented skills will only make the demand for such people greater. Eurostat showed that 55% of companies struggled to fill their ICT vacancies and McKinsey describes how Europe is falling behind global leaders in most growth-enabling technologies such as applied AI and distributed infrastructure.
József Boda: There is a Europe-wide shortage of developers, testers, and cybersecurity professionals. We have a Swedish client who recently said that in the past six months the situation has turned quite dramatic, even tragic. According to him, it’s getting harder and harder to find highly qualified developers with experience.
How and why?
Michał Mysiak: There are simply not enough candidates able or willing to take on many of the roles available in many western European countries and the US. Organizations can of course train their own people through approaches such as apprenticeships, but for those unwilling or unable to take that path, apprenticeships and similar methods aren’t the answer.
When the skills can’t be found locally, there is a need to look further afield. Governments may look to change visa schemes, and this might help overcome obstacles around using international workers. However, rather than look to India, or the Philippines for instance, European organizations should consider central Europe as a sourcing hub. There are three main reasons for this: lower cost, cultural affinity, and the competence of individuals.
How can more people be encouraged to enhance their digital skills?
József Boda: Companies should focus on their current employees and provide their continuous development through upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Governments should support individuals by providing IT education at scale (not universities but rather bootcamps) more accessible, eg. special scholarships, special loans or even free education in these fields.
Finally, reskilling programmes should be offered that can be done in parallel during a normal 40 hour work schedule, so that living costs are covered while studying.
Demystifying what a digital professional and digital workforce mean is also necessary. Learning digital skills can be similar to learning a language – and if approached in the right way, anybody can improve and achieve success relatively quickly.
What’s the benefit for the individual and for society as a whole?
Michał Mysiak: Tech skills are future-proof and competitive skills while technology roles offer variety, flexibility, stability, and a good salary. We encourage career changers, mainly people from mid-sized and big cities who are 5-7 years post-grad or school. They usually already have professional experience that doesn’t have to be technical. Technology roles really can be life-changing for them.
Indeed, coding can change lives for the better, not only for those who gain a new career in tech, but with writing code and developing apps that help others. For example, visually impaired people can order pizza or an app that is used in healthcare to store and make data available etc.
We are also interested in converting those who have reached a ceiling in their careers and are now looking for different opportunities, especially women, some of whom may now be considering career-switching to opportunities in tech, from quality assurance and software tester to programmer or data scientist.
We’ve seen an uptake of women on our user experience and software testing courses, for example, where there is a 50:50 ratio of men to women. When we started, 5 – 7% of our students were female on our software developer courses, and seven years later, we are looking at anywhere from 30 – 70% on these courses.
What is the philosophy behind both companies when enhancing digital skills? What approach do you take, and why?
József Boda: We prepare our students for the world of work. Our pathways are not just technically focused, but we also ensure that our graduates have the soft skills to ensure that they are ready to work from day one.
We are approaching the skills problem in a different way. Most countries are developing their own agendas to solve this challenge, but there is a need for a highly scalable solution to adjust to the changing job market. This needs to be done on a macro level involving a number of countries.
We want to influence traditional training and change the core of education to prepare our citizens earlier for a digitally-driven Europe.
What role does CEE have in the digital skills sector?
Michał Mysiak: In central and parts of eastern Europe, the tech sector is booming with more workers drawn to IT. We know this because the sign-ups for our technology training courses which offer jobs at the end have never been higher.
An interesting additional point in the tech market in central Europe compared to that of western and northern European countries is gender balance. For example, the proportion of women working in ICT is much higher in Romania and Bulgaria compared to the rest of Europe, and the rate of growth in employment of women within the region also seems to be higher. Accessing this female talent is beneficial to women in tech as a whole, while also supporting diversity and inclusion goals.
The supply of tech professionals from central Europe is likely to grow in the near term and that supply is supported by both government and private sector programs. The European Commission’s Digital Decade seeks to recruit more than twenty million ICT specialists in the next decade, while innovative training programs from providers such as Codecool and SDA, who will train up to 20,000 technology professionals annually, are already supplying tech resources to big brands such as Accenture, Microsoft, Motorola, Morgan Stanley, Ericsson, and Vodafone.
What makes this region such a hub for software development, testing, and cybersecurity?
József Boda: ‘Nearshoring’ of IT is already a major contributor to economies in the region and is increasing in importance. As the nearshoring market in central Europe grows, more and more of its skilled workers are benefitting western and northern European organizations. Three factors that largely explain why central Europe is a good hunting ground for skilled IT talent are: cost, culture, and competence.