Introduction

Migracode is code school in Barcelona, Spain, specifically aimed at migrants and refugees. The programming course is offered for free to all the students, and is powered by volunteers from the tech industry who teach at our weekly classes. 

Through free tech education, we change the career path of our students into tech, giving them new job opportunities and therewith increase their integration into society. To make this possible, we do not only offer the educational aspect, but we also connect to tech companies to find job placements for our students. 

The project is in line with broader developments in European societies, where on the one hand, tech industries are in high need of skilled people who have the capabilities to code, create and develop, while on the other hand, many newcomers arrive in Europe on a daily basis, looking for new opportunities in life. Migracode has made it its main objective to fill the gap between these two developments, by supplying the demand for skills through free tech education for the newcomers who are open for a new career path.

Last but not least, not only does Migracode focus on education and labour integration, but we also put high emphasis on social inclusion. By bringing local people, migrants and refugees together, we are creating a large migrant-tech community where local people can discover new cultures and nationalities and where migrants can become part of local communities.

In this article, the aim is to give a comprehensive description of our approach to running a code school for refugees and migrants in Barcelona, and in other cities in the future. Please note that for a large part, our approach is based on the great work that other code schools are doing, especially that of Hack Your Future (in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Brussels), but also on the code schools in Glasgow (Code Your Future), Athens (Social Hackers Academy) and other great initiatives that aim to support vulnerable groups. A huge thanks goes out to all of them for developing this powerful concept.


Why Migracode? An Analysis of the Context

In 2018, Spain again broke its historic record of 54,065 asylum applications, becoming the fourth country regarding asylum applications in the entire EU for the first time. For the third year running, Venezuela was the country of origin with the greatest number of international protection applicants in Spain: 19,280 applications. Next was Colombia (8,650), then Syria (2,775), Honduras (2,410) and El Salvador (2,275).

One of the greatest challenges for the newcomers is their insertion into the job market, which is directly bound to the deadlines and the final decision from the investigation into their international protection application. However, even when granted a work permit, finding work remains very difficult for people with a migration background. They may struggle with psychosocial issues which prevents them from participating in the labour market, but often, they also have to deal with other types of issues. For instance, there is a possibility that their diploma is not valid inside Europe, or that they don’t have sufficient education too access a stable and well-paid job. And, if they want to follow education to prepare themselves better for new job opportunities, they often do not have the economic means to pay for a course or a university degree.

This is not only noticeable inside Spain, but all throughout Europe, migrants face the same challenges, resulting in significant lower employment rates of people with a migration background compared to Europe-born people. The average employment rate of working non-EU migrants residing in the EU was 55% in 2017, against 68% of the host-country nationals. At the same time, they endure unfavourable outcomes in education, skills and social inclusion: 39% of third-country nationals (or 5.7 million) live in relative poverty, over twice the rate for EU nationals (17%). According to the EU, the main causes for these challenges are as follows:

  1. A backlog in education;
  2. Uneven access to employment;
  3. A lack of decent housing and social services;
  4. In the case of highly educated migrants: too many mismatching jobs and/or academic overqualification.

Refugee population in Greece: 50,000+, of whom 38,000 are on the mainland and 11,000 on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros. Over half are women and children; more than 3,000 are traveling alone (International Rescue Committee)

At the same time, Europe is facing what is called a ‘Digital Skills Crisis’: the demand for high-tech skills is on a solid growth track, and the latest estimate of the gap between demand and supply is 500,000 in 2020. Of all the needed IT skills, the second highest desired skill (75%) is knowledge about programming and app development. As new roles emerge and skills requirements change, the size of the existing pool of skilled workers just isn’t going to be big enough to meet the demand. Therefore, it is stated by various sources that businesses must develop new approaches to workforce development for those outside of traditional talent pools. By hiring people from diverse backgrounds, including young people, minority groups and those without a college education, businesses can tap into a huge pool of high-potential and underutilised talent.

As seen already in other countries than Spain, (free) tech education can offer this solution to the tech industry. In Amsterdam (Hack Your Future), Glasgow (Code Your Future) and Greece (Social Hackers Academy), NGOs have already successfully offered programming courses to migrants and refugees, helping them to find a job in the tech industry, sometimes with a 90% hiring success rate for a full class of students. 

Migracode Barcelona is using the same approach, offering a course that is openly accessible for migrants and refugees in and around Barcelona, while connecting to tech companies to increase the chance of successful labour integration. Having already started one course for which we received more than 40 applications, and already having a high interest from the tech hub in Barcelona, it shows that in Barcelona as well, the free code school concept has high probability of bridging the gap between the issues migrants and refugees face in Spain, while simultaneously supporting businesses with finding new people to supply their need for highly skilled people in tech.


The Main Objectives

Migracode Barcelona aims to improve human-wellbeing and allow human development by supporting refugees and migrants in Spain with their social and labour integration into Spanish society. Simultaneously, Migracode aims to strengthen the tech industry in Barcelona and the rest of Spain by enabling a new and diverse workforce. These main objectives are specified below:

I. Offering free tech education to migrants and refugees

Through weekly classes, we educate our students to become experts in the most important coding languages. Including the two weekly class activities and the homework they need to finish on a weekly basis, they are learning and practicing up to 30 hours per week. This is made possible with the help from tech professionals in and around Barcelona who volunteer with teaching and coaching up to 8 hours per week. While doing so, we make use of an open-source curriculum, shared with other code schools throughout Europe, which focuses mainly on front-end and back-end web development, including modules on HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Node, React and Databases (MySQL).

II. Creating a large community of refugees, migrant, local people, companies and NGOs

In order to increase social inclusion of migrants and refugees, and to have local people get to know the newcomers, we aim to bring migrants, refugees and local people together through the shared goal of education and integration. Through weekly classes, monthly Meetups, one-two-one sessions, events organised by and with tech companies and in collaboration with other NGOs, our community will constant allow people of all sorts of backgrounds to come together and share intercultural knowledge and values. Within this community, cultural and social exchange are the main pillars.

III. Increasing labour integration of refugees and migrants

By offering free tech education, our students will be fully prepared to work in the tech industry as web developers. However, we do not only aim to educate them in having the required skills, but we also create strong connections directly with the tech industry – including training and HR departments – to find possible job or internship placements for our students. By emphasising the strong curriculum that our students use, but also by emphasising the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility and the need for companies to have a large positive social impact, we aim to have up to 90% of our students working in tech after our course, or to be accepted in a trainee- or internship opportunity.

IV. Offering additional support to students during their journey to become a web developer

To make sure our students are able to stay in our course and not drop out, we offer them additional support to make sure they receive adequate help with any challenges they face during their journey of becoming a web developer. After all, many of them often have a difficult history in their home country and/or during their crossing to Europe. The support that we offer includes (1) mental support from our internal Social Worker and from external organisations that offer professional psychological support, (2) legal support from volunteers who have experience with for instance arranging work permits, and (3) child support for single parents who cannot afford daycare while they themselves are in the classes.


Methodology

To have courses running on a constant basis and have our students find new job opportunities, we use various educational and project management methods and tools to keep the program effective and successful:

1

Using a strongly built and up-to-date curriculum, shared with various code schools

The openly accessible curriculum, originally created by Hack Your Future in Amsterdam, includes everything one needs to learn to become a successful web developer and to start working in a junior web developer position at a tech company. The curriculum is built by professionals from the tech industry, and is also kept up-to-date by volunteers from the various code schools with the latest developments and changes in the world of programming. This is a highly important and strong aspect of our program, since the tech industry changes every day and knows new developments on a regular basis, including new coding languages and new products that allow renewed creativity to come into existence. 

2

Using a wide range of open-accessible project management tools

In order to reduce costs, we use various tools to manage our volunteering database, the students, the applications, the classes, the main tasks, the employees and the program schedule. These tools include Trello (to manage individual and team tasks), Podio (to manage various databases), WordPress (to have and maintain a strong website), G Suite (to manage email communication, Cloud collaboration and shared calendars), Canva (to easily create digital marketing content), GitHub (to manage the curriculum) and LinkedIn (to find volunteers and other support).

3

Using a strong volunteering community and the tech industry

By using our strong workforce of volunteers who help with teaching – but also with marketing, communications and partnership-building – we are making use of all the human resources that are available to help our students finish our course. Currently, we already have more than 40 volunteers involved, but we aim to reach at least a 100 in 2020/2021. At the same time, we make use of the tech industry by receiving material donations, sharing spaces, collaborating with events and – of course – finding job placements for our students. Currently, we already have more than 20 companies involved, but we aim to reach at least 40 in 2020/2021.

4

Using the open labour market in Spain to find jobs for our students

As explained before, there are many open positions in the Spanish labour market, especially in Barcelona, where there is a still-growing tech hub. With currently 9 active students, but aiming to reach another 30 in 2020 and at least another 30 the year after (depending on our funding), we will create a big social impact for our students who can change their lives through new job opportunities. 

5

Using the high variety of NGOs in Barcelona to find students for our school

In order to reach even the most isolated migrant communities in and around Barcelona, we collaborate with other NGOs that work with migrants and refugees with all sorts of backgrounds. This allows us to create a fully inclusive community, where even those who normally would not be selected for an opportunity like this have the possibility to join our course. This for instance includes Venezuelan, Syrian and Columbian communities, but also Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Moroccan communities.


Capacity Building: Our Social Impact

Our school has a wide and large positive social impact on society. Below, you can find a description of each involved actor in our program, and how our program contributes to their socioeconomic and/or professional development:

STUDENTS

Our students benefit the most out of all actors involved in our program. They learn new skills, which allow them to find new job opportunities. This allows them to achieve a new and improved financial situation, which consequently leads to a more stable living situation in general. At the same time, they can make most use of the migrant-tech community we create, as it can help them to escape from potential isolation or psychosocial issues they suffer from. Our additional support in the form of psychological and legal support contributes to this as well. Furthermore, by improving their own living situation, they can also share their knowledge and skills through the same network, by teaching at new courses or by coaching new students during their journey to become a web developer as well.

VOLUNTEERS

Our volunteers also benefit greatly from being involved in our program. Not only can it offer them lots of positive energy by contributing to the improvement of other people’s lives, but they can also improve their own skills by teaching their own knowledge. At the same time, they can get to know new cultures through constant cultural exchange, which can introduce them to different ways of thinking and working. Furthermore, as a benefit for their own professional career, Migracode allows them to enter a professional network of tech Meetups, companies, tech professionals and NGOs that can introduce them to new opportunities and possibilities.

NGOs

NGOs can benefit mostly by learning from our best practices in terms of collaborating with the private sector. By organising meetups and sharing knowledge on Corporate Social Responsibility, NGOs can discover new ways of funding and of getting support through the private sector. At the same time, NGOs can also support their own target group with connecting them to our course, which increases their social impact as well.

TECH COMPANIES

The private sector – tech companies – can also benefit greatly from the results of our project. Firstly, they can fill open positions with the supply of our students who finish our course, which is highly needed, as described earlier in this article. Secondly, they can increase their social impact by supporting us or hiring our students, which is not only beneficial on a humanitarian level, but can also increase business revenue. Lastly, through volunteering, their employees can make use of the benefits described in the ‘Volunteers’ section above. 

OTHER CODE SCHOOLS

By strongly collaborating with the other code schools throughout Europe, we can improve not only the output of Migracode Barcelona, but the output of all the different NGOs that share the same objectives. Through sharing the curriculum and sharing the knowledge that is built everyday about this code school concept, the social impact of this approach can thrive forward all throughout Europe.

SPANISH AND EUROPEAN SOCIETY

In the end, when Migracode and all actors involved undergo the whole process of education to labour integration, it will benefit both Spanish and European society as a whole. After all, higher employability of migrants increases their positive image and encourages cultural exchange, which lowers tensions between local people and newcomers. Furthermore, when companies economically thrive forward through their new, highly skilled employees, their positive economic impact allows further economic growth on national and international levels, also strengthening the global economic position of Spain and Europe.


Conclusion

To conclude, Migracode Barcelona and all the other code schools throughout Europe are creating an effective solution to both the demand for skills and to the difficult situation of many migrants and refugees in Europe. With support from the EU, local and national governments and from the private sector, we are able to continue our journey to build an even bigger migrant-tech community and help many people transition to a new and more stable living situation.

Are you interested in supporting us? Please check the volunteering options or the possibilities for companies to be involved through our website, or send an email to info@migracode.org.


Post Author: Vincent van Grondelle

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