Creating a city of coders

A chance comment about an innovative coding school in Munich changed the life of Marzieh, who comes from Iran and had been trying to find a way to kick-start her dream career in technology. “I think I was fortunate! I found a great community there and my career change started after joining,” she says.

When Vincent moved to Munich from his native Nigeria he also found just what he needed at the school. “I had some prior IT skills,” he explains, “but needed a refresher in some technology skills and also an introduction to Germany’s IT environment.”

Venezuelan chemical scientist Luz Mary struggled to find work when she arrived in Munich in 2020. “My level of German wasn’t good enough and all the skills bootcamps I found were too expensive,” she says. “I saw the possibility, through the school, to get the skills and network to help and empower me to get a job.”

The place that proved to be a lifeline for these three newcomers to the city, and thousands more, is the ReDI School – the name referencing both ‘Readiness’ and ‘Digital Integration’.

Addressing two challenges with one school

Like all cities, Munich knew the digital skills gap needed to be addressed. At the time of the school’s launch in 2017, there were 50,000 unfilled IT jobs in Germany. Since then the EU has highlighted that Europe will need at least 20 million ICT specialists by 2030.

The city had more reasons than many, however, to take urgent and innovative action.

Munich is one of the most important technology hubs in Europe, with 11,300 companies, including tech giants like Microsoft, Google, IBM and Cisco, needing to fill IT roles, as well as a thriving start-up community requiring a ready supply of digitally skilled employees.

The city is also one of the top European destinations for immigrants and expatriates. Over 45% of its residents have a migration background. And this had a big influence on the way the city decided to rise to the skills challenge.

For newcomers, the chance of finding a job is 50% what you know and 50% who you know
— Birgit Koebl, Head of Partnerships, ReDI School Munich

“The refugee crises of 2015 and 2016 and now the situation in Afghanistan and Ukraine for instance have led to a lot of newcomers and a challenge within our society to manage integration,” explains Birgit Koebl, Head of Partnerships at the ReDI School Munich.

“On the one hand we see migrants arriving with a high interest in technology and coding and on the other hand we know there are many companies looking for more talent and diversity.”

The city determined to find a way to create a win-win-win situation for everyone. For society by helping people secure jobs and integrate into society. For companies by providing a pipeline of people with the skills and attitudes they are looking for. And for newcomers seeking a better future.

Plugging students into the city network

Inspired by the ReDI School in Berlin, a private initiative that was supporting refugees on their integration journey through empowerment with digital skills, the city decided to bring this promising concept to Munich.

Munich’s ReDI School was set up as a non-profit, private-public partnership which is co-financed by the Department of Labour and Economic Development within the Munich Employment and Qualification Programme.

This arrangement not only means that the school’s courses are free for all students. It also means that students can be supported by a strong local community of 80+ partner organisations through mentoring, tech talks, networking events, company visits, recruitment fairs – and job offers.

“We wanted to be a school first but we also believe that if you are a newcomer in terms of country and culture or new to employment, finding a job is 50% what you know and 50% who you know,” says Koebl.

Koebl is particularly keen to also flag up the value of the 500-strong community of volunteers who run all the classes – and also keep the school up to date with what skills are needed in the job market.

“I never thought we would get so many amazing volunteers and we are very thankful for their engagement, ideas and enthusiasm,” she says. “They are all professionals working in technology, many have international backgrounds themselves, and they give up their time for our students because they really enjoy teaching a subject they love.”

Making sure no one is left behind

The school started out by offering advanced coding and computer courses for refugees, and anyone else in the city without access to digital education.

At first only 10% of our students were women. It's now more than 50%
— Birgit Koebl, Head of Partnerships, ReDI School Munich

Initially the training programme included evening and weekend classes, workshops and individual projects. A career programme was added when it became clear that some students needed help with things like language skills, writing a CV and applying for jobs.

It wasn’t long before the school noticed something else: only 10% of students were women. Discussions with refugee women revealed two reasons for this. That they couldn’t join the school’s evening classes if they had children to feed and get to bed or that they were looking for computer skills for any job rather than a digital career.

These insights informed the school’s new Digital Women Programme, which has been incredibly successful. Today, 50% of the school’s students are women.

Children can get a look in too.

“We offer childcare at the school and realised that some of the older kids are at the stage they’re having to decide on a career,” says Koebl. “Many from a migration background are struggling so much but we tell them everyone can learn how to code and that it could give them a career.”

The school takes its Kids and Youth Programme to refugee camps, into schools and out to rural areas. One inspired initiative created with Bayern Football Club brings digital media training to children in a playful way that connects coding and robotics to football activities.

Personal stories from the classroom to the workforce

It’s not surprising that with ideas, agility and partnerships like this, the ReDI School has been extraordinarily successful.

In five years it has trained 1,600 people – the original plan was 50 a year – and offered more than 120 courses. In 2020, 74% students found a job on finishing their course and 19% more continued their training or secured an internship.

So how did our three students get on?

First, Marzieh. “ReDI offers excellent courses with professional, experienced and supportive teachers who had the primary role in my career transformation,” she enthuses. “I also learned how to prepare myself for the job market and, last but not least, ReDI gave me a laptop that was my best friend in the whole learning and applying journey!” Marzieh is now working as a software developer for a digital supply chain company in Munich.

After attending ReDI’s Summer School, Vincent says, “The ReDI School provided the platform for me to meet my current employer, CGI, through the job fair. I have also started volunteering because I had the urge to give back to society through the ReDI School.”

Luz Mary took ReDI’s Introduction to Computer Science Course and is now working for Accenture as a Project Management Analyst. “ReDI was the bridge between my expertise and the technology field I wanted to get into,” she says. “I am now in the place I always wanted to be.”

A special course was designed for refugee women with family responsibilities
Newcomers to the city can gain basic computer proficiency skills at the school
Like all the classes, coding is taught by enthusiastic volunteer IT professionals

School and city join forces for Ukraine

The ReDI School Munich itself is also in a very good place right now. Having been officially certified as an education provider, it is able to pay teachers and provide full-time classes for the first time – and explore novel opportunities to help even more people.

The next residents to be offered the ReDI experience are jobseekers, who will be given education vouchers by Jobcentres that they can use to take its courses.

First, though, the ReDI team has another idea to turn into reality.

I was empowered to find a job in technology - the place I always wanted to be
— Luz Mary, ReDI School alumna

“We have a lot of people currently arriving from Ukraine,” explains Koebl. “We want to do what we can to help and are working with our partners to build a summer school for them in a very short space of time.

“The city gives us room to do our work and to be agile, like a start-up. What is working well we keep and if we see something that needs adjustment we can act fast.”

Cities dream, act and lead our future. This example from Munich is one of the finalists for the Eurocities Awards, in the category ‘Act together – skills and competencies for the future’. The winners will be announced on 9 June 2022 during the Eurocities Conference.

Tiphanie Mellor