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The Jet-Net Youth and Technology Network, was founded 10 years ago in response to increasing demand for a more highly-skilled workforce in the Netherlands. The network is a joint venture among Dutch companies and pre-college schools in the Netherlands. Jet-Net companies help schools enhance the appeal of their STEM curricula (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) by using a great variety of activities which help students to gain a better understanding of their future career prospects in industry and technology.
IBM has been a member of Jet-Net nearly since its founding. Over the years, hundreds of IBMers have volunteered to develop and run workshops on such diverse topics as website development, robotics and workplace readiness for Jet-Net member schools. IBM also develops science workshops with other Jet-Net member companies, and participates in
Jet-Net’s annual career days, which typically attract between 2,000 and 3,000 students.
Below, Jet-Net Project Leader Sebastiaan Smit talks with Director Gerard Jacobs about
the program’s successes, and how it came into being.
Sebastiaan Smit: Where did the idea of Jet-Net come from?
Gerard Jacobs: About 10 years ago, the CEOs of Akzo Nobel, DSM, Philips, Shell and Unilever saw that the growth of well-trained technicians in the Netherlands was going in the wrong direction. These companies wanted and want to stay in the Netherlands. But to be able to maintain a strong presence, the conditions for a well-differentiated labor market needed to be present. You can also say that without knowledge workers there can be no full-knowledge economy, and that is certainly true for the Netherlands.
Smit: The core of the Jet-Net concept is the connection between Dutch companies with Secondary Education and Government. In an increasingly global economy, doesn’t that limit the concept?
Jacobs: We think that the concept is strong enough and flexible enough to keep us going, even in a globalised economy. During 10 years of operation, we’ve seen more and more knowledge sharing with a number of European countries – many of which are actually looking at our concept because of its added value. For example, Jet-Net launched in Denmark last autumn, and the President of the European Commission – José Manuel Barroso – supports our initiative. According to Sr. Barroso, by connecting the worlds of education and industry, Jet-Net is providing a powerful example of how Europe can make the most of its potential to turn innovation into growth and jobs for the future.
Smit : But still, how do you start and maintain local projects in schools in a fast growing organization like Jet-Net? What makes Jet-Net successful?
Jacobs: It has to do with a number of factors. From the beginning, our approach has been to grow in small steps towards a greater entity – in other words, learning by doing. This has enabled us to build a good foundation for the one-to-one relationship between educators and employers. We act regionally, but have a national – and now an international – identity. The support for Jet-Net continues to grow every day. That growth includes both the schools and the companies that want to participate.
Smit: Looking at the founding members — all large companies — would it be correct to think that membership in Jet-Net is only for bigger enterprises?
Jacobs: Not at all! The beauty is that local people know the local companies well, thus they are able to interact with each other in a flexible manner. It is an interesting side effect to see smaller parties in that environment now connect with Jet-Net more easily. The message I would like to give to the regional Jet-Net companies is to look at the small businesses that may be valuable for Jet-Net, but which may be unable to enter into a one-to-one relationship with a school. However, by working together to form a cluster, or working with a larger company, they could establish a relationship with a school.
Smit: Do you think that there will continue to be a need for Jet-Net
in the long term?
Jacobs: Technology is an essential factor for a healthy economic future. The connection among schools, businesses and government is necessary to maintain an effective balance in the Dutch labor market, because together we are stronger. By participating in Jet-Net, schools are no longer islands, their educational quality improves, and students make more informed choices about what they choose to study – based on insights into how their training will prepare them for employment. But companies also are learning as they gain a better understanding of the youth, build a valuable network and build their knowledge base. In addition, we’ve seen that employees who contribute their expertise to Jet-Net are more highly motivated and derive a greater sense of purpose from their work.
Warner Dijkhuizen is the IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager for
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