There is a persistent perception that technology careers are not accessible enough. To counter this bias, Ibrahim Ouassari established MolenGeek, in the heart of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. The organisation's mission is to make the technology sector accessible to anyone who wishes to work in the digital world, regardless of their background or educational level. Together with Microsoft, MolenGeek has launched a cyber security training.
As the youngest of eight siblings, Ibrahim Ouassari grew up with plenty of well-educated role models. Yet, he himself left school at the age of 13. “Even with role models and academic support at home, the educational system is just not for everyone,” explains Ibrahim, recounting the personal journey that led him to the field of technology.
His first encounter with it involved secretly trying to download music from the internet; an experience that eventually ignited a fervour for technology. Years later, he oversaw four companies. “Technology and entrepreneurship were quite accessible for me. However, when I spoke with young people from my neighbourhood, it became clear that they didn’t see any opportunity or perspective in the sector. This motivated me to start MolenGeek, to prove that technology is accessible to all, even without an academic background,” Ibrahim continues.
Strong business model
MolenGeek is built on three main pillars. “We offer a coworking space, both long- and short-term training programmes, and dynamic events such as Hackathons, Geektalks, workshops and more. Our goal is to provide employment prospects based on motivation alone, without prerequisites or certifications,” Ibrahim says. “We remove all other types of barriers. We overcome the mental barrier – that they are not cut out for a job in tech – with our welcoming environment. We eliminate the financial barrier by offering everything for free. You don’t have the right material to join a course? We can lend you a computer. In other words, we take away their excuses for not starting a career in technology. The only criteria are to be at least 18 years old, unemployed, and proficient in one of Belgium’s national languages.”
The project was warmly welcomed by the technology sector. Partnerships with major companies such as Google, Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Proximus and PwC bolster the organisation financially. At the same time, Ibrahim has designed a self-sustaining business model: “We are proving to companies that individuals without a formal academic background, yet with the right skills, can contribute substantial value. Enterprises willingly engage us to find and train their workforce. With this funding, we sustain our growth.”
Adapting to demand
MolenGeek is constantly evolving, including national and international incubators, and adapting to the ongoing development of technologies. The digital sector is booming and MolenGeek is riding the wave. “MolenGeek now has eight incubators: three in Belgium, three in the Netherlands, one in Italy and one in Morocco. Last year, we trained 400 people in Belgium alone. Six months post-training, 85% of them had secured careers in the sector. We believe this percentage will have risen even more a year later.”
In partnership with Microsoft, MolenGeek introduced a specialised Cyber Security training. “Microsoft connected us with several companies seeking talent in cyber security, particularly for the role of SOC analyst. Given our students’ non-technical backgrounds, we created a training with content adapted to their capacities. For example, we use a lot of metaphors to make it easier for them to understand. The goal is to learn what a SOC analyst does, and to obtain three related Microsoft certifications.”
Companies are finally recognising the need to regain control over their cyber security, which is why they are counting on Ibrahim and his team to provide them with the necessary experts. “This cyber security training is just the beginning. We hope to develop more trainings on other cyber security topics, such as pen testing. In this way, we aim to provide companies in Europe with a maximum talent pool for crucial jobs such as cyber expert.”
To find and attract students, MolenGeek uses its social networks. To engage with companies, Ibrahim explains, “Initiatives like the Cyber Security Coalition play a pivotal role in spreading MolenGeek’s message. Companies need to know that they can rely on us to solve the talent shortage. With their input, we can also develop our trainings to match market demand. In other words, we all benefit from communicating and collaborating.