Barcelona Code Academy Opens Technology Careers to Migrant and Refugee Students

Hana Chabinsky, Global Communications Intern

On July 14th, 24 students from 15 countries excitedly entered the Open Cultural Center (OCC)—a nonprofit located in Barcelona—to begin their journey in tech. Following social distancing ordinances and mask-covering requirements, the OCC hosted the third-ever Migracode class since the program’s founding in 2019, sponsored in part by Lenovo.

As the first code academy for refugees and migrants in Barcelona, Migracode acts as a bridge between the demand for skilled people in the tech sector and an often-overlooked community eager to work in the tech industry. The free, 8-month course teaches programming skills and opens a path toward self-sufficiency and integration for Spain’s newcomers.

Vincent Van Grondelle, who began as a volunteer at the OCC but now serves as Migracode’s program manager, explained what technology means to his students:

“It means new skills and jobs, which means new lives for them. Many of them do not have steady jobs or jobs at all. This means they don’t have stable financial situations, even though they are highly capable. Because technology offers so many careers, learning to code means introducing opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have and hopefully obtaining a life of stability.”

Migracode assists graduates in ultimately finding those opportunities. In addition to teaching participants how to code, the program reaches out to recruiters and has a page on their website dedicated to connecting IT companies with eager students. Grondelle fondly recalls how proud he and his staff were when their first student—a migrant from Syria who faced immense adversity—found full-time employment as a workforce manager for Webhelp.

Students at a coding workshop with Migracode Barcelona.

“Migracode’s learning path is straightforward and they provide everything to make a career change into the tech sector,” said Ümit Selahattin ÖNER, a student from Turkey who loves learning about natural and social sciences in his free time. “What else could a coding student ask for?”

While Migracode works toward placing 100% of their students in IT-related jobs upon finishing the program, creating equal opportunity from the start within the program is essential. Relying heavily on volunteers and donations to provide their students with the best teaching and equipment possible, Grondelle says that Lenovo’s contribution of 12 PCs and program funding for the cohort will have a direct and immediate impact on students.

“Creating a better learning experience is essential to mitigating hardships in the lives of these students, who already face significant challenges and setbacks,” Grondelle said.

Partnering with Migracode is part of Lenovo’s mission to provide Smarter Technology for All.

“Migracode is a perfect example of Smarter Technology for All,” said Monica Hauser Wolff, Lenovo Foundation Director. “We believe we have a responsibility to ensure equitable access to tech, because when technology, innovation, and opportunity are available to more people, entire communities benefit from the solutions and improvements that emerge. We are so proud to partner with Migracode and hope that our technology can play a small but direct role in these students’ futures.”

In addition to offering free coding courses and facilitating job placement, Migracode’s program is unique in that it fosters a community of inclusion and social integration; teaches soft skills as well as technical training; and recently built an internal mental health care team to ensure students get the support they need outside of coding.

Following the first class, a spike in COVID-19 cases in Barcelona resulted in a forced transition to remote classes. This has introduced an additional communication challenge as dedicated employees, volunteers, and students adapt to distance education. Fortunately, the laptops arrived right on time for students to become familiar with the technology and learn its capabilities in-person so they could take them home to continue the course. However, during this unprecedented time, it has been especially difficult for students to find employment.

“Nowadays, life is full of uncertainties, not only for migrants and refugees,” said Esteban Medina, a student from Venezuela with a background in marketing and advertising. “If you can, put your chances into getting an education that may catapult you into new, fantastic places where you can explore all of your potential.”

Students in a Migracode workshop in Barcelona

Grondelle is currently working toward growing the academy’s partnerships and collaborating with more coding schools throughout Europe to share knowledge and best practices, ultimately leading to pilot programs in more cities.

Now more than ever, Migracode is looking for volunteers to help facilitate their remote program, as well as find support from companies who are interested in recruiting, donating, or collaborating with the program to organize events for students. Find out how you can get involved by visiting the Migracode Barcelona homepage.

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