This month, eight students are looking to get their cloud engineering diploma from AWS re/Start in the Netherlands, and some of them will land an entry-level job at Capgemini. They're not fresh-faced, college-age, computer science graduates, but an extremely diverse group of adults who have decided to switch careers, or to take their best shot at re-entering the job market. They range from a stay-at-home mother with a background in social work to a Lybian immigrant who is not just new to IT, but also to the Netherlands, and from a middle-aged woman who has been out of the job market for some time, to someone with IT experience from years ago in another country.
One of the graduates is Victor Romijn, who was the Food & Beverage Manager at a hotel/restaurant when he lost his job at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Learning to be a cloud engineer has been quite a radical career switch for the father of four. "Without the pandemic, I probably would have stayed on at the hotel," he says. Nevertheless, he has no doubts that he's on the right track. Victor had already started two other IT courses, both paid for by the unemployment agency, when he was accepted by TechGrounds' Capgemini-sponsored AWS cloud engineering training (he still finished both).
It's been over twenty years since Victor graduated in Hotel Management. Going back to school - even while staying at home - has been pretty overwhelming, he admits. But he relishes working with the other students in his team: "I like it a lot. Everyone has their goal on the horizon. For many, it's a way to give their career a new direction. We're all proving our ability to adapt our way of thinking. It wasn't easy, I had to reinvent myself."
Sponsoring the candidates
Overseeing the project for Capgemini is recruiter Sebnem Ozec. "Our aim is to help people," she states. "Of course, it cuts both ways. Cloud computing is on the rise and we see an opportunity to hire people to work at Capgemini on AWS projects. It's business as well as social return: we're sponsoring the candidate and if they're not a fit with us, that's okay too. But we want to give them the push to choose for themselves and move on with their lives."
Once the students have successfully completed the program, their cloud engineering skills are at a junior level. The Dutch training center TechGrounds has offered the four-month program in conjunction with AWS since 2019. It's a full-time online course for unemployed and underemployed individuals, with work spaces available in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Zaandam for anyone who isn't able to work from home. A "matching" session with a number of companies is part of the three-day selection process and once a student is accepted, the course is free, with all costs covered by the prospective employer. The class of December 2021 was the first to be sponsored by just one company, Capgemini, which allowed TechGrounds to fit the entire program into 12 weeks.
Instead of traditional classes, the course is led by so-called "learning coaches." The students work in teams. Victor: "It's a lot in a short amount of time and you pretty much have to figure it out for yourself. Before you can contact the learning coach, you and your teammates have to have done the research. So you're learning by doing and applying your newly acquired knowledge right away. It's basically: These are your assignments for the week, we'll see you at the one-hour Q&A at 1pm and at the daily recap at the end of the afternoon… Good luck!"
In addition to teaching the students (to teach themselves) new IT skills, both Capgemini and TechGrounds are keen to stress the development of so-called soft skills. Project manager Yasmina Tran: "You need to be able to express yourself appropriately in front of clients, for example when they don't agree with your point of view." She's very proud of the students who enrolled in the first dedicated Capgemini class. "They have really become a team in ways we didn't expect. People are checking in and consulting with each other into the night, and are encouraging each other to help everyone pass the exam. It's really beautiful to see."
A pipeline of talent
Kevin Kelly is the director of Cloud Career Training at AWS. The re/Start program is vital for all parties concerned, he explains. "Capgemini helps many of our customers deploy production workloads on the cloud. They've been a strong partner of ours for many years. But like us, they suffer from a cloud IT skills shortage. Everyone wants to hire the 10-year tenured cloud architect, but I can tell you that all three of them are gainfully employed. Capgemini understands how important it is to create an entry-level pipeline of talent. They then have a healthy mix of stable talent, where the experienced talent can focus on their level of expertise and the entry-level talent is thrilled to learn about other tasks that need to be done. Ultimately, it helps them, it helps us, and it helps our customers who are starving for this talent."
Developing soft skills
Capgemini's involvement with the curriculum stresses developing the students' soft skills: presentation, leadership, consulting, and personal development. Sebnem: "What is their potential, will they fit into our organization, what do they want for themselves? It's not about how many of them we end up hiring, it's really about the whole process."
As a recruiter, she has found that it's a totally different way of working that has its own set of benefits. "It's the ultimate way of seeing how an IT person comes into being. They're not someone who was coding at five years of age. Some made a career switch at 50. It's not beneficial for me as a recruiter to have preconceived notions about people. This process helps me get rid of narrow frames of mind. I would love to see it applied more broadly as a recruitment practice. I'd rather take into account who somebody is than look at a CV and say: 'Less than five years of experience? Next!' That's not recruitment. But that's my personal opinion."
Sebnem Ozec is the Corporate Tech Recruiter at Capgemini