Technology players spend a great deal of time and resources attracting talent from abroad. What if employers didn’t have to look beyond Luxembourg’s borders?
The start of a new school year at the Lycée des Arts et Métiers is always busy for BTS teacher Christian Boudot. Between supporting teachers and new students at the college’s nine two-year technical programmes, his phone doesn’t stop ringing with enquiries from employers eager to take computer science interns.
“Companies phone me in September, knowing that the internship is only after the Easter holiday,” Boudot says, adding: “Because of this, once they graduate, students usually have at least two to three offers on the table.”
As the “swiss-army knife of computer science”, the popular, English-language technical course offers a broad curriculum which is three-quarters practical. What is more, every student secures a job within three months of graduating. The success rate can be credited to the way the college structures the course: with one eye on the needs of Luxembourg’s labour market. “Over the 13 years of our IT BTS, we never offered the same course catalogue more than two years in a row,” says Boudot, adding: “We adapted our course catalogue to reflect what the industry was looking for.”
The course and others, like the AI BTS, scheduled for September 2024, respond to an acute market need for tech talent. The only drawback is that class sizes are capped at 12 students, to ensure high quality teaching and coaching. “We know 12 is not enough for the market but at least it’s something,” says the coordinator.
Recruiting ICT teachers
If finding tech talent for a startup is difficult, sourcing teachers for technology subjects who meet the education ministry’s stringent language requirements is an even greater challenge. “Try to find someone who has experience, a master’s degree and speaks French, German and English and Luxembourgish. The needle in the haystack is a piece of cake compared to that challenge!” says Boudot. If the hiring language criteria could be relaxed, for instance to be English-speaking only, it would expand the list of potential candidates for the high school.
While language criteria are a challenge for the Lycée des Arts et Métiers, as a not-for-profit the Luxembourg Tech School is not subject to the same limitations. Launched in 2015, the goal was to supplement digital skills training in Luxembourg secondary schools and show learners what is possible. But they too struggled to find teachers. “Basically the Amazons and their banking sector equivalents were taking most of the available technology expertise that could be teaching,” recalls LTS founder Sergio Coronado.
He began onboarding experts to work as freelance coaches, who were invited to go into schools and provide free tech training that is integrated into school curricula. Over the past seven years, some 850 students went through the nine-month programme which is run in ten schools. Some students even sign up for optional lab workshops. “It’s about exposure, more than pushing them to make a career decision,” says Coronado, adding: “Our goal is they understand how to solve problems with technology, and that’s what’s important.”
The founder is heartened to see students return as coaches, and the optional cybersecurity workshop is now taught by alumni. The school, which is privately and publicly funded, is now creating an alumni programme to continue supporting them in their future careers and vice versa.
With a full-time team of seven employees, the not for profit provides everything a student needs, including laptops, “so there is no barrier for the students to be part of the programme.”
Education System Improvements
Since the creation of LTS, the public education system has introduced computer skills training from primary school. It does not mean LTS is redundant. “Technology is advancing at a higher speed that anybody can adapt to, not only the educational system but also the businesses,” says Coronado. “The more the educational system does, the better it is for us because then we have those students with a higher level of knowledge so that we can push the technology a little bit higher at early ages.”
Technology’s constant and rapid evolution also means the school has to update its content and it is shifting its focus to include AI and introduce subjects like quantum, 5G and brain computer interfaces. Working with the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology, the LTS also wants to tackle the gender gap in the mostly male-dominated financial technology market. It is developing a pilot personalised coaching programme for young women, which examines individuals’ skills and trains and coaches them to pursue an appropriate technology career path.
“Instead of directing people to a preset programme, we take needs of the market, the personal skill set and then we coach this person,” Coronado says, adding: “The idea is to take our mature girls who finished the three years at LTS and are still in education and give more financial and tech content that could potentially lead to a placement in the market.” The pilot will begin in September 2023, benefiting 12 young women. The LTS is currently recruiting industry professionals to mentor the students.
Career Change And Upskilling
But what of adults who are already in the labour force and looking to transition or upskill?
Luxembourg has a new ace up its sleeve in the form of Ecole 42. This intensive vocational programme will complement the Luxembourg Digital Learning Hub (DLH), a continuous education facility created by the education, children and youth ministry and which, since launching in May 2022, has offered more than 300 short, IT and tech courses.
“Ecole 42 is a full-time, peer-to-peer coding school that should kickstart somebody’s IT career,” explained Jenna Pütz, communications officer for the DLH. “The programme is based on projects that you have to solve with your classmates. But you can manage your own time because the campus is open 24/7.”
The school follows an ethos of the original Ecole 42 founded in Paris in 2013 in that there are no teachers and candidates learn by doing projects in a peer learning setting.
The admission procedure is lengthy, including a two-hour logical thinking exercise. If they pass, candidates will be invited for a face-to-face meeting before being launched into the piscine (swimming pool), a four-week intensive coding course where candidates learn the pedagogical approach, their peers, and first steps into coding.
“In those four weeks, they will learn a lot, get to know each other and have their first peek of what it is to study at Ecole 42. It is also demanding because they will have exams every Friday,” explains Pütz. Candidates who pass the piscine will go on and start their curriculum to learn the basics of programming in C and the fundamentals of IT systems. After this first “common core” that lasts between 8 and 18 months, they can continue their training and specialise in specific fields such as web development, developing mobile applications, AI, cybersecurity based on the projects they choose.
Ecole 42 can accept up to 150 learners and, once completed, can lead to attractive careers in coding jobs like full stack developer, front end or back end developer and systems administrator.
“The skills we impart are the fixed skills searched for on the job market. It’s why we have collaborations with industries, companies and with Adem. We know what they are looking for and what we can do based on our resources to help close the digital skills gap,” explained Leamira Pinto Fonseca, who works across Ecole 42 and DLH. 42 Luxembourg is tuition free, the DLH courses are low in cost and only free for people registered with the ADEM, students, public employees and civil servants.
The range of focused technology training is slowly expanding in Luxembourg. Clearly there remain challenges. In addition to a limited pool of teachers, Luxembourg needs to inspire residents, young and old, to develop skills in these much-needed fields. And then, Luxembourg will also need employers with the patience to train them further.
But, it is clear that the home-grown talent pool is one that is far from being fully exploited. As Luxembourg House of Financial Technology CEO Nasir Zubairi puts it: “If we are struggling for talent, we should at the very least look on our own doorstep and see how we can better utilise that talent pool.”
This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Get your copy