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Tech Link Ukraine: The volunteer group connecting refugees to employers

30 Mar 2022

Neill Dunwoody, tech entrepreneur and talent acquisition specialist, is co-founder of Tech Link Ukraine. He tells SiliconRepublic.com about the group’s work helping Ukrainian techies find new jobs.

Just over one month on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of people have been forced to leave their homes to escape war. They continue to flee, arriving in Poland, Moldova, Slovakia and further afield.

Ukrainian refugees are now settling in Ireland and the UK, for the time being at least. As they begin rebuilding their lives, they are faced with the prospect of finding a way of earning a living in a new country. Navigating a career change in a foreign country can be challenging at the best of times; for people who have suddenly been forced to leave their lives in Ukraine behind, the prospect of finding a job is doubly difficult.

Future Human

Enter Tech Link Ukraine, a jobs resource for Ukrainians built by a group of entrepreneurs, including Monaghan-based Neill Dunwoody.

‘It’s not your typical recruitment offering … there’s a whole different nuance to this situation’
– NEILL DUNWOODY

Dunwoody is an entrepreneur and a talent acquisition specialist. He is co-founder and CCO of healthcare start-up Spryt and works in an advisory capacity for drone delivery start-up Manna. He is also managing director of Titan Talent Services.

He saw an opportunity to use his expertise one day a few weeks ago when he met a Ukrainian woman looking for work in the Monaghan co-working hub he was in.

Using his industry connections, Dunwoody helped the woman get a job. She had worked as a lawyer and a graphic designer in Ukraine. He realised that there would be thousands more like her also looking for jobs here, so he co-founded Tech Link Ukraine and has since lost count of the amount of people he has been able to help as part of the network.

“It’s not your typical recruitment offering,” Dunwoody tells SiliconRepublic.com. “Anybody that works in recruitment will tell you how hard it can be to actually find really skilled individuals and talent. But there’s a whole different nuance to this situation; you have people that are coming out of a country that’s just been blitzkrieged.”

A lot of Ukrainians are coming to countries where they don’t know anyone and where they have nothing, he adds. Many are women with small children who need to be taken care of, and even things like accessing bank accounts and CVs can be impossible.

“If you do hire people like that, you need to be able to give them that leeway,” Dunwoody says, explaining that people need flexibility to begin getting a job to support themselves and their families.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

Some employers are paying for workers’ flights to get to wherever they are being hired from if they have to come from a country like Poland or Slovakia. Others are paying for hotdesking facilities and places to work, or paying rents for a few weeks while workers get themselves set up in their new country.

Signing up for the website is completely free, but Dunwoody says employers are asked to make these financial commitments to help people initially.

He says he has “been shocked by people’s generosity” since he began the voluntary project. Through his business network, Tech Link Ukraine will be able to provide apartments to Ukrainian families free of charge during the summer months when the students ordinarily using them will be gone.

Dunwoody is not interested in working with anyone out to make a profit, he says. Tech Link Ukraine has joined forces with other organisations working on similar projects for refugees such as Remote Ukraine, and it is also working with charities on the ground such as the Red Cross and Ukraine tech organisation IT Ukraine.

‘We ran the numbers; there’s about 250,000 tech specialists in Ukraine’
– NEILL DUNWOODY

Tech Link Ukraine has built an AI-informed platform where people can build their profile. They can then go about applying to jobs and they are matched with employers based on their profiles, CVs and what kind of work they are looking for.

“On average we’re getting 5,000 candidates a day,” says Dunwoody. These candidates have done thousands of interviews with the more than 1,000 employers currently on the site so far.

In an effort to help as many people as possible, the platform is growing to include sectors other than tech. Dunwoody says there has been interest from companies operating in areas from floristry to medicine. Around 85pc of all the candidates applying are women.

Ukraine has a huge amount of talented tech professionals, particularly in front-end and back-end development, says Dunwoody. He is already familiar with the country as a tech hub from his work as a talent acquisition specialist.

“We ran the numbers; there’s about 250,000 tech specialists there – or were there,” he says. “And it’s growing by about nearly 25pc each year. A lot of that will be graduates going into tech, but there’s a lot of Russians in tech in Ukraine who would have moved because there was better roles, better salaries at the time.”

‘I’ve always been a believer that the more multicultural your society, the better your society’
– NEILL DUNWOODY

Dunwoody knows people in Ukraine and knows the area. He has had some people ask him why he did not set up a similar initiative for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries.

“I would do it for Syria and Afghanistan if the Irish Government or the European Union came around and waived the work permits and visas,” like they have done for Ukrainians. People fleeing the country can apply to live and work in the EU for up to three years under an emergency response plan.

Dunwoody points out that he started the project with the goal of helping “even one person”. As the initiative has grown at such an unprecedented rate, he now spends his time liaising with employers and connecting other people with resources and the willingness to help.

Last week, he exhibited at Talent Summit in Dublin and signed up more than 160 employers in just one day.

“The hardest thing is not the jobs,” Dunwoody explains. “The jobs are the easy part because everybody and every company wants to help. The hard part is connecting and signing Ukrainians up. We don’t find them, we just signpost and hopefully they’ll come to us.”

So far, he said, the group is happy with what it is achieving and the support it is getting. He lists support from companies such as Avanade and Microsoft, which are helping the site to build the back-end to accommodate the influx of traffic. A PR agency in the UK, Bright, is also giving its time for free.

On the day of the Talent Summit, so many people signed up that Tech Link Ukraine’s website crashed. Luckily, Azure provided credits so that the team could get more bandwidth.

Dunwoody wants others to get involved, too. He said that access to bank accounts is a very pressing problem for many Ukrainians coming here and as Ireland accepts more and more refugees, the issue will compound.

Ultimately, Dunwoody believes that our acceptance of Ukrainians will “bring our society up”.

“I’ve always been a believer that the more multicultural your society, the better your society,” he says. “Certain people aren’t happy with what we’re doing, they say you’re taking Irish people’s jobs or English people’s jobs, But that’s just part and parcel; it just goes along with it.

“If you’re not willing to do it, don’t do it. But my attitude is you have to do it. For me, I didn’t have a choice, it was either do it or…”

Dunwoody trails off, briefly contemplating the alternative.

Updated, 4.50pm, 30 March 2022: A previous version of this article said Tech Link Ukraine was working with Techfugees, but that is another group doing similar work in this space. The article also said that Tech Link Ukraine received credits from AWS, and this was amended to Azure.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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