Hiring is difficult for any startup. And that makes sense. You’re growing fast and your business is constantly changing. Therefore, training on-the-job can be a good choice. Tengu, a Birdhouse start-up, is recruiting its technical staff in this way. In this blog they share their lessons learned about the IBO program and on-the-job learning for start-ups.

“One of our key back-end developers couldn’t program in the right language a year ago,” testifies Thomas Vanhove of Tengu.

“But in one year, he evolved from someone with a lot of drive, but limited programming skills, to a real programmer and fixture in our backend.”

And this is no exception for Tengu. They help companies structure their data, and interestingly enough, they train their technical people on-the-job. “That backend engineer was a post-doc in mathematics who wanted to make a career switch. Which he did with flying colors. And the IBO program is the only reason this was possible,” Thomas says.

Soft skills > hard skills

But why do they do it? Isn’t it just easier to recruit experienced profiles? For Tengu, this has everything to do with the field they work in. “We usually look for gigantically specialized profiles” says Thomas.

“We work with new frameworks and technologies. We practically have to train people all the time, regardless of whether someone has previous experience. So eagerness to learn is a core skill for people we hire.”

That translated into two features of their hiring policies:

  • They focus on soft skills during hiring, such as eagerness to learn and drive.
  • After hiring, they place a strong emphasis on ongoing training for employees.

What is IBO?

For Tengu, the so-called IBO or Individual Vocational Training was the foundation on which they built this policy. The IBO is a system of the VDAB to facilitate training-on-the-job. Some of the key features include:

  • In cooperation with VDAB you draw up a training plan for a new recruit. This process may take one to six months.
  • During the period of the IBO this person receives a combination of a benefit from the VDAB and a premium from the employer. This is usually lower than an actual wage, but approaches it.
  • If the recruit successfully completes the IBO route, the employer must hire that person with an open-ended contract, and there is protection from dismissal for several months.
  • The candidate for the IBO pathway must be a job seeker. So you can’t hire working people through an IBO.
  • At the end of the training period, you can give an officially recognised certificate to your new recruit.

Such a system, in a nutshell, allows you to train new forces for a lower cost. “The IBO system was a gift to us,” Thomas says.

“We knew we needed to train new hires. And this system allowed us to train people in the specific systems and frameworks that we use. And after those six months, our people get a certificate from VDAB that shows they’ve mastered those systems.”

Learning-on-the-job, with safety net

After concluding an IBO contract, you still have to train your people. Tengu does that again in their own unique way.

“We give people freedom,” Thomas says. “We let individuals run their course, and see where they get stuck. Because everyone works and learns in a different way. During those first six months, people can bump heads.”

But initially this didn’t always work out perfectly, so they built a safety net anyway. “Complete freedom often creates stress in new people,” Thomas says. “That’s why we now have a system where we meet with them weekly to see where we can help. This could be by purchasing a book, for example, as some people like to learn from books, or by having someone take an online course. We look at the person first, and tailor the course to their needs.”

Cons: Average wages and lots of commitment

Training-on-the-job is therefore a good option for start-ups, but one that does not work in every situation.

Sector average

On September 1, 2018, for example, the IBO pathway changed. Before, you could simply indicate the gross salary a person would receive after the IBO ended, and the monthly payment was based on that. That allowed for competitive wages in the technology sector, even under an IBO.

From 1 September, VDAB will base the monthly payment on a sector average. This often makes it less competitive for IT professionals. “This makes it harder to find people who want to start under an IBO,” Thomas concludes.

Commitment is needed

In addition, an IBO also expects a commitment from the employer. “You have to take an IBO seriously,” Thomas says. “You have to make a good training plan and you have to hire that person after the IBO. It’s not a probationary period, and it expects dedication from the employer.”

Only suitable for certain functions

Finally, you can ‘t fill all positions this way, which Thomas from Tengu also acknowledges. “For example, for our first sales profiles, we will not use this method. We will recruit a senior profile first. We can’t wait for that, we really want to get that growth under control quickly. But for subsequent hires, it is a possibility.”

“You need to make a good training course and after the IBO you need to hire that person. It’s not a probationary period, and it expects dedication from the employer.”

Keep a good mix

Henk Vandenbroucke, Independent Business Enabler and Coach, confirms Thomas’ story. “An IBO is indeed often interesting for start-ups. You don’t necessarily have to recruit people with a lot of experience. For example, you can bring a school leaver on board,” he says.

But nevertheless, he also calls for a balance. Training on-the-job cannot last forever. “Often you can fill positions with individuals you train, but at some point you have to buy in knowledge. And then you even have to dare to recruit people with more experience than the founder”, concludes Henk.

“Often you can fill positions with people you train, but at some point you have to buy in knowledge. And then you even have to dare to hire people with more experience than the founder.”

All tips in a row

Do you want to start your own IBO, or train people on-the-job? Below you’ll find all the tips in one place.

  • When recruiting, place a stronger focus on soft-skills such as eagerness to learn than on hard-skills such as knowledge of programming languages.
  • Set out a clear training plan, and follow up with your new hire. For example, by holding weekly meetings.
  • Give employees enough autonomy to learn things for themselves and make mistakes. But also give them enough tools to learn.
  • Research what an IBO pathway just is, and what it expectsof you .
  • An IBO demands commitment from both sides, don’t look at it as a cheap trial period.
  • An IBO is not the right choice in all cases, for example in the case of more experienced profiles.
  • Recruit a good mix of employees. Provide a combination of on-the-job learning and the recruitment of more experienced profiles.

Want to know more? Here are some more useful resources: