RIDE package helps migrant women into digital jobs

Final Event Press Release

The RIDE – Reach Inclusion through Digital Empowerment for Migrant Women –project,  funded by the EU’s AMIF programme, has developed and piloted an support package to help migrant women find jobs in information technology. It comprises three elements: skills training in IT, mentoring to build confidence and social inclusion, and job fairs to bring trainees into contact with potential employers. Its key guidance documents area vailable online.

This one-day final event of the 2-year RIDE project took place on 20th January 2023 at BeCentral, a digital campus housed above Brussels Central station, a building designed by famous art nouveau architect Victor Horta.

Anna Sobczak, Deputy Head of Unit Actions and Procurement, DG HOME, European Commission, noted that there had been unprecedented competition for the calls for proposals, with the priority for the social and economic integration of migrant women alone attracting 131 proposals. Five top-class projects had been selected. She was particularly impressed that although the RIDE proposal was submitted “when COVID was just an exotic headline from Wuhan”, the project had pursued its purpose without being deflected by the pandemic – but added that she would have expected nothing less for a project concerned with digital skills! She also praised the variety of stakeholders involved – including not only training organisations and NGOs but a chamber of commerce. She encouraged participants to apply under the 2023 call which had just been published with a €40m budget. Unfortunately it does notinclude the priorities for women and digital skills – but these will be in the following call, scheduled for late 2024.

Mariam Harutyunyan, Funder KinArmat & Director at ASATT, who arrived in Belgium at the age of four, then gave an inspirational talk, pointing out that if you want to succeed to have to make the most of your opportunities – they won’t be handed to you on a plate. “Making the most of them requires knowledge, hard skills and soft skills, networks and understanding how the system works. These have to be created yourself. Persistence is also required – too many women are put off and say “this is not for me” she said.

Three key components of the package

RIDE’s work integration package for migrant women comprised three main components: training in IT skills, mentoring and coaching to ensure social inclusion, and a job fair at which trainees could meet employers informally. Different RIDE partners explained them in turn.

Session: Migrant Women & Digital Skills Policy
1. Training – flexibility is key

Toby Johnson, the project co-ordinator, then introduced the project. “RIDE has both social and economic objectives,” he said. “It bridges 3 gaps that migrant women face – the employment  gap, the entrepreneurship gap and the digital skills gap. And on the demand side is the digital skills that businesses need.  

Liane Adler of Litus novum in Berlin described the RIDE approach to IT skills training. The project delivered digital training and mentoring to 100 women in 6 countries, of whom 77 finished the training. Trainees came from 23 different countries, and had very varied backgrounds. The first thing to do was to check which women were interested and see what needs they had and what training they needed. In three countries the partners built two training courses, one for the digitally illiterate and an advanced course for women who already had digital skills.

In the Czech Republic the training specialised in video skills, in Italy in e-commerce, and in the Netherlands and Greece in how to become a ‘virtual assistant’. The main challenge was to cope with different levels of digital literacy and also with different needs regarding work-life balance, as many of the trainees had children to look after. This called for time tabling to be agreed with the trainees, and for a flexible mix of on-presence and online communication.

2. Mentoring – personal contact

Nora Giannakaki of Symplexis in Athens described the mentoring component of the RIDE package, which aimed to inculcate soft skills and to empower the trainees. The mentoring was given by one or two mentors in each country, sometimes working with external experts. All of them were adult educators and inclusion professionals.

RIDE created a set of guidelines with 3 pillars – social inclusion, labour market integration and human rights – which mentors adapted based on the participants’ needs.

Mentoring sessions were normally operated for groups of 10/12 trainees for 2/3 months per country. These sessions ran in parallel with the IT training, and aimed to boost self-esteem, transfer soft skills and strengthen skills related to the job market. RIDE also provided continuous support during the IT training, both to enable planning and to keep motivation high.

In the delivery, personal contact was key. Trainees appreciated building a trusting relationship with the mentors, which allowed them to open up about their needs and their life in general. It is important to use interactive communication channels, not rely on e-mail.

3. Job fairs – meet the employers

The third component of the package was job fairs. These were physical events which allowed migrant women to meet job providers and inform themselves about jobs and traineeships. In the overall approach was that employers presented themselves to potential employees, rather than the reverse. Workshops were held to help participants to understand the job market and job opportunities available, and one-to-one interviews were arranged.

The events were designed to be welcoming to the participants and to facilitate conversations – for instance by providing a food and drink area. Some organisers accompanied trainees to meet potential employers. Altogether 20 trainees met 40 employers at the six RIDE job fairs.

Filling the skills gap

A discussion then took place between Ursula Hönich of DGHOME, Tim van Rie of DG EMPL, Charles Dannreuther of Leeds University and Lina Konstantinopoulou of Eurochambres. Mr van Rie highlighted the relevance of RIDE, mentioning the EU’s target that 80% of the population aged 16-74 should have basic digital skills by 2030 – a figure thatis now just 54%, with women and migrants both lagging behind. Yet at the same time there is a talent shortage – 55% of enterprises report that there are difficulties finding ICT specialists. Of the 9 million in the EU, only 19% are women.

The conference then heard from the project partners and from six of the trainees, who bore testimony of their experiences and issues that had arisen. A final round table head form several initiatives: Sana Afouaiz of the Womenpreneur initiative, Armand Leblois of the CISCO Networking Academy, Noémie Valcauda of Digitalcity.Brussels and Chiara Giacometti of Women Inclusion By Online Tools (WIBOT) in Liège.

Adriana Thiago from the European Network of Migrant Women highlighted some key challenges of projects focusing on digital skills and migrant women. Agender-neutral approach does not go far enough as it overlooks migrant women’sspecific needs and possible vulnerabilities. She recommended that projects consult grassroots movements to gain insight into the target groups’ life and challenges.

Session: Testimonials from RIDE trainees

On the right track

Toby Johnson concluded in an optimistic mood, saying that two factors make us think we are on the right track: first that employers actively want to employ migrant women in IT jobs; and secondly that there is a steady supply of migrant women able and willing to fill these vacancies. Therefore the job of matching the supply to the demand is worthwhile. Thirdly, there is obvious policy and funding support for this work.

A crucial element is the integrated approach: RIDE has successfully  piloted a method that works, by delivering hard skills training and soft skills mentoring in parallel; by combining physical and online delivery; and by providing both group and individual learning.

We discovered a number of other things: for instance that IT training can be very successful if delivered only in English, and to this extent there is a Europe-wide market for IT training, and lack of local delivery capacity is not a barrier. However for the mentoring and social inclusion component, it is vital to build trust, and tailored personal support, in the native and host country languages, works best.

Continuous 1:1 support, flexibility and the willingness to adapt to unpredictable changes in the complex lives of migrant women are needed. Whilst many migrant womenhave digital skills, the bulk of demand is at the basic level.

As regards the next steps to be taken, the RIDE partners should encourage other organisations across Europe to take up and replicate our methods and results. More broadly, attention should be given to securing continuity of funding, and this should include the ESF and other Structural and Investment Funds managed by the EU’s Member States.

Guidance available online

The key documents describing the RIDE inclusion package areavailable for download on the project website. The partners invite you to useand adapt them!

·        A preliminary study on the labour market situation of migrants in the six projectcountries

·        Guidelines on designing an IT training project for migrant women

·        Guidelines on mentoring and training – detailed guidance on 13 modules of 3-4 hours onintercultural and social inclusion, labour market integration and human rights

Migrant women should look at the crowdmap of initiatives which offering migrant women IT skills opportunities throughout the EU. At the end of the project it included 100 initiatives in 23 countries.

Toby Johnson,
+32 486460540

Download the file