Making the Baltic Sea Region more attractive for international talents: challenges and perspectives

The Baltic Sea Region has the potential to become an attractive place for international talents, if we learn more about the best practices from the region and apply them. This was one of the themes discussed during the ONE BSR –project’s Policy Round Table in Gdansk in October 2013.

Two of the round table participants, Morten King-Grubert and Anna Koptina, share their perspectives on talent retention in the Baltic Sea Region.

‘First and foremost, it is very hard to distinguish between talent attraction and talent retention,’ says Morten King-Grubert, who is head of Talent Attraction at Copenhagen Capacity, an organisation working with attracting international talents to Denmark and Copenhagen area.

‘You cannot do attraction without retention, and it is relevant to do both. This is what our cities and regions always neglect: they concentrate on attracting people, instead of working with people living in the region. Why encourage people from China to come to the BSR when you can start working with Chinese university students that have already come here?’

Anna Koptina is a postdoc at the Division of Pharmacology, Uppsala University. After having worked in Russia, the USA and Germany, she received a scholarship from the Swedish Institute and came to Sweden in 2012.

‘The Baltic Sea Region is attractive, because of the high quality of academic research,’ Koptina says.

‘There are world-famous universities and research groups. Of course, the region has to compete with the USA. But my reason for not staying in the USA is the quality of life in the BSR. There is a better balance between work and private life and working conditions are better. I also think that Swedish society is very tolerant and open to new things, new people, new cultures and experiences.’

Innovative societies need talented people

Working actively with international talents is important if we want to create a more open, democratic, and innovative society. It is also good to remember that many countries in Europe will face a shortage of highly skilled employees in the future.

‘Human resources are the most valuable resources of an innovative society,’ Koptina says.

‘Sometimes it is not even a question of economic resources, but a question of who is doing the work. If someone is talented and creative, you can always find better ways of doing things. The more talented people we have in the Baltic Sea Region, the better and more stable region we will have. Talented people who are busy working have no time to create conflicts!’

‘Talent retention is important and the reason for this is demographics,’ King-Grubert says.

‘In the long run, we simply do not have enough skilled people to sustain our current competitiveness. Besides, this is not only about having a skilled workforce – international talents help create an innovative climate in the region, increase overall productivity, attract additional international investments and increase import and export revenue.’

How to win the battle of talents

What are the tools and ways of thinking that will help the BSR be better at both attracting and retaining skilled talented individuals?

‘We need to think about investing more resources into innovative technologies and education throughout the region and further improving quality of life,’ Koptina says.

‘There should be policies for hiring skilled people. Industry and decision-makers should work to keep people in the country and make sure that they have jobs that match their qualifications.’

‘Also, initiatives that work with talent retention in different countries should do more marketing in the BSR. Why not receive information about them as soon as you arrive in Sweden? Then, if you run into problems finding work in Sweden, you can ask for help from Copenhagen and move within the region instead of moving to Australia.’

‘We should work on our product and identify the region’s strengths,’ King-Grubert says.

‘Also, there must be ways of solving practical issues: international talents often have problems with visas, work permits, housing, international schools for their children, social networks and work for accompanying spouses. Once we have the international experts in our region, we need to understand who they are and identify their needs. We should remember that there is also a life after 9 to 5 – so we should think about how we make people feel professionally, privately and socially. The stay in our region should not only be a work experience, but a living experience as well.’

King-Grubert also talked about Copenhagen Capacity and its methods for creating best practices for talent attraction and retention, making sure that skilled individuals have a long-term career in the region.

‘It is important to remember that we work with people,’ he says.

‘Making this region attractive to international talents is not the same as selling shoes or cars; this is about people’s lives, so we need to do whatever we can for this or that particular individual. We need to create an optimised one-stop shop. ’

‘This is not something that Copenhagen Capacity can do by itself; we need to work closely with the “triple helix” of governments, universities, and industry. We are also taking this further and are working with the “quadruple helix”, involving non-governmental organisations as well as expats themselves and testing our ideas together with them.’

The Baltic Sea Region has a very successful product, but we should concentrate on letting non-European markets know who we are. There is a great value in telling stories from the region and explaining what is special about the BSR.

‘The war for talent has begun and we must remember that we are not the only ones reaching out to international talents,’ King-Grubert says.

‘The highlight during the Policy Round Table in Gdansk was that we had the talents up on the podium telling us why they chose the BSR, telling their personal stories. The audience paid attention. Talents are the products and the customers at the same time, so they know best. This is how you should market the region – by letting talents speak for themselves.’

See the ONE BSR film of the talents: http://vimeo.com/86018211