F_Email Project Builds Confidence and Careers

Greater participation in IT jobs for Serbian women.

F_Email Project, School of Electrical Engineering, University of Belgrade, Serbia

The F_Email Project recruits women who have not been able to find work to develop their IT skills and build careers as networking professionals. The innovative, all-female technology program at the University of Belgrade, School of Electrical Engineering, uses the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum to expand opportunities for women in IT.

Building Careers, One Woman at a Time

The idea for the F_Email Project came from Mladen Koprivica, a Cisco Networking Academy instructor at the University of Belgrade, School of Electrical Engineering. “According to the EU Grand Coalition on Digital Jobs, there is a gap between available IT jobs and people qualified for them,” he said. “To support the development and modernization of the Serbian economy, it is very important to have educated people. There is a need for women to take greater participation in IT jobs.”

At the university, many women pursue degrees in areas where no jobs exist or under-represent their skills and talents due to a lack of confidence. For example, Ana Mari Brnabic graduated at the top in her class in art restoration, but spent years looking for work.

Wanted: Women with the Drive to Change their Lives

In 2006, Mladen partnered with Cisco to launch the F_Email Project: a competitive IT training program for a select group of women who face significant obstacles to employment. By combining the technical skills taught in Cisco Networking Academy courses with soft skills training in a small group setting, he hoped to help the women bring their strengths and talents to the developing IT sector in Serbia.

More than 150 women compete each year for 16 spaces in the intensive 8-month program. The result is a mix of career starters with technical skills and career changers with backgrounds as diverse as IT analyst, mother, artist, language professor, and architect.

“It was like starting from zero, again, at 34 years,” said Ana Mari, the artist. In the F_Email Project, she discovered how her art restoration skills could translate into a technology career. After years of rejection, she is now working in the IT industry in Serbia. “It was really frustrating. But I’m happy, really happy with my job, my colleagues, and my new friends.”

Professional Positioning Leads to Success

The program emphasizes career development through soft skills training. Participants learn to position themselves for a career, not just a job. According to Irena Jankovic, the soft skills instructor: “I teach them to use what is unique to them to help employers understand what is different from others.” Irena encourages women to put their own priorities first and focus on career goals.

“As the gap between qualified people and available jobs grows, women must take a bigger part in the IT industry,” said Mladen. “Some of the most popular IT jobs did not exist when we started the program. We have seen that an IT education can be very powerful.”

Despite the global recession and an unemployment rate around 20 percent, the women in the F_Email Project have found work. In the first 5 years, 83 women completed the F_Email Project program and 70 percent found jobs.

“I don’t worry about my future anymore,” said Ana Mari. “I know what I would like to do and what my goal is.” Her confidence extends to her two sons who she encourages keep an open mind about their interests.