At 19, Amal Lahham, a Syrian refugee, is a software engineer at a reputable information technology company in Jordan. Like many young graduates of the RebootKamp (RBK) “durable skills accelerator program,” she learned high-demand technical skills and landed a job in less than a year.
Coding bootcamps like RBK’s program in Jordan have emerged in numerous countries as a strategy that both provides jobs for young people and creates a work force better trained in the technical skills that employers in the digital sector need. (See a related article, “A ‘Coding School’ Seeks to Create New Opportunities in Morocco.”)
RebootKamp’s focus on refugees as part of its targeted population makes its work in Jordan especially important: The kingdom is home to more than three million Palestinian and Syrian refugees, according to Anera, a U.S.-based development organization that has partnered with RebootKamp to extend its training to young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. (See two related articles, “Job Creation Efforts in the Middle East Hit a New Snag: Covid-19,” and “Helping Refugees Rebuild Their Lives in Host Countries.”)
In Jordan, work laws bar foreigners, including Syrians, from working in many professions. They can work in construction and agriculture, for example, but the law lists 18 other fields that cannot be pursued by non-Jordanians, including working in a warehouse, in a gas station or as a secretary. Such restrictions discourage many refugees from completing their higher education and push them toward more practical skills that allow them to work as freelancers. (See two related articles, “Syrian Refugees Are Often Steered Into Illegal Jobs,” and “Little Hope of Jobs for Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan.”)
“For my first project, I wanted to challenge myself, so I picked a framework that was totally unknown to me, but within the span of one week I gained the needed knowledge and could execute the project.”Amal Lahham A RebootKamp graduate who now works for an IT company in Jordan.
Intense, Career-Specific Training
RebootKamp’s six-month program, while short compared to a college degree, demands a high level of commitment from its students. It took a lot of determination, perseverance and courage to complete the program, Lahham said through WhatsApp messenger.
“We used to study up to 16 hours a day. It was very intensive and stressful,” she said. “I learned a lot on the technical side, but most importantly we were taught how to study, in the sense that they teach you how to analyze and grasp information in the shortest possible time.”
In order to graduate, students had to submit three final projects which later figure on their job résumé.
“For my first project, I wanted to challenge myself, so I picked a framework that was totally unknown to me, but within the span of one week I gained the needed knowledge and could execute the project,” Lahham said.
“That was extremely useful for me both technically and personally. It enriched my résumé and enhanced my personality. It gave me self-confidence and made me aware of the things I am capable of doing. I was the youngest in my group, and I had to deal with students of all ages, different personalities and characters and it helped a lot,” she added.
Like Lahham, 23-year-old Nourelhoda Mouazin is a Syrian refugee with no university degree. After working four years in sales, she joined RBK’s immersive skills accelerator program and started a career in the IT industry.
“Initially, I had no idea about IT work, but I was able to learn this profession and find a much better work,” Mouazin said, adding: “Over four years in sales I was not able to advance and develop my skills. RBK gave me a great opportunity that changed my life. I have now a better vision of what I want to do and what I want to be.”
In addition to the technical knowledge, RBK students acquire social skills like logic, self-awareness, a growth mind-set, collaboration and communication and other personality traits that correlate with success.
Fast Track to a Job
While some students choose coding bootcamps as a way to directly enter a profession, instead of spending years getting a college degree, Hanan Al-Majali, a program manager with RebootKamp in Jordan, says universities could benefit from incorporating skills acceleration methods into their curricula.
“Plugging the skills accelerator methods into higher education will help reduce the time spent in college. Students would graduate with a good knowledge, practical experience and a strong personality.”Hanan Al-Majali
A program manager with RebootKamp in Jordan
“The skills accelerator is true for all majors,” Al-Majali said in a Zoom interview. “Plugging the skills accelerator methods into higher education will help reduce the time spent in college. Students would graduate with a good knowledge, practical experience and a strong personality.”
The aim of the program, she added, “is to upgrade the performance through acquiring and nurturing skills needed to have a successful career.”
Still, the fast track to a job that bootcamps can provide is the part of the experience that many students value most.
In a survey of RBK graduates, including college degree holders, 74 percent said the university was a waste of time and a mere 9 percent said it was worth it. For those with degrees, 87 percent said they learned more in four weeks at RBK than they learned at four years in the university.
Taghreed Abdallah Ali, 39, is a Yemeni-Jordanian RBK graduate and holder of a college degree in English literature. She worked as an air hostess for 10 years before enrolling in the RBK program and landing a job in IT industry.
“In college you take your time to learn, whereas at RBK it is very intensive and short. In six months, I learned a new subject and got a job, whereas in college you spend three to four years studying,” Ali said.
A ‘Life-Changer’ for Refugees
Applicants to RBK’s skills accelerator program are carefully screened and interviewed before being selected. In the first two months students learn fundamental information technology principles remotely before they move to boot camps for four months, during which they learn detailed high-level IT concepts and devise solutions to problems.
“I have already been trained on mobile and electrical appliances maintenance, and still I can’t find work.”Jalal Ahmed
A Syrian refugee in Jordan
RBK started in Jordan in 2015, and has since graduated more than 400 students, a majority of whom were refugees. The program was later expanded to the West Bank, Gaza and Tunisia.
“The program was a life changer for many refugees who had no income or profession,” said Al-Majali, the program manager. “They are now in Canada, managing teams, or hired as software engineers in key local firms. They have a solid card in their hand and no longer feel marginalized in the community.”
Still, many have not heard yet about RebootKamp and are not sure if they can benefit from it.
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Jalal Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Mafraq, in northern Jordan, has already joined several vocational workshops held by international organizations in Jordan to support refugees, but he is not sure if such new skills could really help him.
“I have already been trained on mobile and electrical appliances maintenance, and still I can’t find work,” Ahmed said. “I have the skills but do not know how to find job.” Therefore, he added, he would prefer not “to learn anything else unless I am sure I can find suitable work later.”