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Tomas Connect 3 panel discussion
Image from Brenda de Vries

TOMAS Connect #3 panel discussion with TomTom and StartupAmsterdam

During the panel discussion, Mariya Findzhikova of TomTom and Bas Beekman of StartupAmsterdam talked about their experiences with talent development and the challenges that come with it. Mark Wijsman acted as moderator.

In the last edition of TOMAS Connect #3 before the summer, at the atmospheric ZOKU Hotel in Amsterdam, seven initiatives pitched their stories to an excellent selection of companies, including ABN Amro, Dashmote, Xillio, DataSnipper, Dott, Tech Rise Ventures, Novalinq and TomTom. The companies met initiatives in roundtable discussions and exchanged contacts. Some are now exploring the possibility of working together.

There are plenty of initiatives for talent development, we just need easier ways to connect

Mariya: “TomTom is actively involved in technology, and technology development. We create solutions that will create the most up-to-date and real-time map to get people from A to B smoothly. So we need people who bring these skills. The competition is really stiff.”

“TomTom works with tech organisations like Codam and TechGrounds and looks at different talent pools. Of course we also look at what we can offer people. What kinds of benefits can bring them closer to us? A flexible way of working, for example, at home or in the office – a choice according to your needs. What attracts talent now is flexibility.”

You already work with several talent development initiatives. Do you also hire from them?

Mariya: “From the CSR team, I see many advantages: about giving something back, reciprocity, and there are also many advantages for the business. It’s great if there’s a win-win. Not only giving back the expertise of highly skilled engineers, but also bringing a fresh view of the product to services and learning from talent and letting them solve our challenges. So giving something back and benefiting from skills.”

“We’re fortunate that at TomTom we have an inspiring leader who also founded Codam. Working on a close relationship with the school – you can approach it in different ways.”

“TomTom is in transition to becoming a full software company, both B2B and B2C. From a social impact perspective, we collaborate with technical institutions and create more opportunities to create jobs in tech.”
- Mariya Findzhikova, Associate Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility Communication at TomTom

“In the past, they ran sessions to prepare for tech job interviews, in which students could experience their first tech interview. They ran a mentoring programme in which TomTom professionals coached students on developing hard and soft skills. We recently held the first global student hackathon, at which Codam excelled. We’ve also had contact with a variety of technical institutions.”

Bas asks Mariya: “How much of the tech talent is local and how much comes from abroad?”

Mariya: “Because we offer flexibility, we’re seeing more people working from home. It makes no difference to productivity. We see that things are changing – as long as the job gets done, that’s what’s important. The employee chooses where they do it. We see different kinds of people – it’s a good mix.”

“By talent from abroad, do you mean people who come here with sponsorship or non-Western foreign language speakers?”

Bas: “At Booking, 85% of tech talent comes from abroad; they attract people from other countries. Great corporate HR people know where they need to go to attract people to Amsterdam. That’s what a lot of big companies are doing now. There’s a lot of local talent available for what TOMAS is trying to do: create a movement of companies and educators coming together to increase the level of local tech talent.”

Mariya: “TomTom is one of the founders of the TechConnect partnership. It aims to attract 50,000 people from unrepresented communities into technology. We recognize that talent can come from non-traditional directions. For us, that can only be a benefit.”

“We hire 600 to 800 people from talent hubs all over the world. We first look at available talent locally, then at talent agencies. But there are various reasons, also financial ones, why the best talent may not be 10 miles from the office. So we also offer remote working, and not just for people ‘abroad’, but also people who are local. You have the flexibility to work however you want – people with children can work after the kids have gone to bed. It’s putting the ‘stay-at-home attitude’ into practice.”

Mark Wijsman at the Tomas Connect 3 interview panel
Image from Brenda de Vries

Mark Wijsman: “You have a good insight into what’s happening regionally in terms of employment. Wherever you go, there’s a labour shortage. Borders are becoming more transparent, and remote working is well established. How does this affect companies and startups in the region?”

Bas Beekman: “Amsterdam is incredibly popular. Many US companies are coming here. Every major tech company looks at Amsterdam because in their eyes we have a lot of talent. At the same time, there’s actually a lack of talent. But the companies are coming anyway. They then hire the local people who are working for startups. That’s one of the other big challenges we face: it is very difficult for young entrepreneurs to find the right people.

So let’s create a movement of big tech companies who want to invest in the pipeline of local talent and the educators. We have excellent teachers, and also the coding academies (Codam) – everyone is really great, so let’s connect them and increase the pool of talent!”

Mark Wijsman: “How do you find a connection between local supply and international competition?”

Bas: “The role of the government is also necessary – we need to organise events like these. My question in return is: how can we make this bigger? Next time we should double it! We need to grow the movement. Next time we need more companies!”

“The challenge of finding talent – something that we all have to deal with, the lack of tech talent for startups and scale-ups – is one of the big priorities.”
- Bas Beekman, Director of StartupAmsterdam, a programme that strengthens the ecosystem for tech companies in a wide variety of ways.

Question from the audience: “American scale-ups are coming to the Netherlands – is there a process to inform them about the possibilities?”

Bas: “There’s a talent acquisition department – amsterdam inbusiness. And an expat centre in Amsterdam – they help people to set up companies, and help talent from abroad to register in the Netherlands. The City of Amsterdam is always ready to help companies. Things have shifted a bit. Amsterdam used to support any major US company, but nowadays it’s only companies that are relevant to a city like Amsterdam. Meta, for example, has to work things out for itself. But a company with a great climate solution to change the world is welcome. An impact filter might be the way forward.”

Question from the audience: “Are you doing anything to encourage us to look for more local talent or jobs? Are there any other local initiatives?”

Bas: “There are still a lot of people who don’t have a job. But we have to find them. We’re doing this by setting up new programmes to activate people and guide them towards the initiatives that already exist. To get a job in tech and in other sectors.”

“For example, there’s TechConnect, which runs the schemes TekkieWorden and TechGrounds to encourage people to consider a job in tech, giving them the right skills to start a career. Initiatives like this really help.”

“Another example: they had a dancer who now works at Shell and from this they learned that musicians actually make very good programmers. I think it has something to do with being able to read very accurately.”

Finally, a few important take-aways from the event

There are no seniors without juniors.

Talent initiatives are available to deliver tech talent, but they need partners to collaborate with.

There is room to develop talent programmes together; the skills that people learn need to match the skills that companies are looking for, and talent initiatives already have the necessary infrastructure, so you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel, but use what already exists.

TOMAS Connect #4: 7 October 2022

The next TOMAS Connect is already planned and will take place on 7 October at the ZOKU Hotel in Amsterdam. This time we will be switching roles; the matchmaking will be specifically tailored to the needs of the companies. We’re asking 10 companies to pitch their recruitment and CSR needs to a pool of pre-selected TOMAS initiatives.

Please contact us if your company would like to take advantage of this opportunity. Check the TOMAS site (in Dutch) to sign up for TOMAS Connect #4.

Translated from the original Dutch article by TOMAS