A recent study on the talent retention in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) shows both challenges and opportunities as well as policy and best practice recommendations.
“Talent retention policy and initiatives in the Baltic Sea Region: A situation analysis” concentrates on how capital cities and regions, as well as major cities such as Hamburg, Saint Petersburg and Gdansk, are working with talent retention. The best practices chosen focus on methods for receiving talents (the so-called ‘soft landing’), providing professional and social integration, retaining local talent and encouraging talents to return to the region.
“The biggest challenge while performing the analysis was finding information on national policies and work permit regulations. This means it is almost certain to be an issue for talents as well”, comments Marcus Andersson from Tendensor, a consulting firm who carried out the study for the One BSR –project.
“How can a foreign job seeker find relevant information? There are also many exceptions to the various rules, and that is discouraging and makes the system less transparent.”
The study concludes that Denmark and Finland are making the most effort in the field of talent retention. At present, these countries have the most experience in the region when it comes to creating best practices.
In Germany, the main focus is on retaining local talent. In Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden there are very few initiatives targeting international talents.
In general, very little is being done in the BSR to retain and re-attract highly skilled local talents, despite the fact that many young professionals are leaving the region.
Fighting with bureaucracy and local language
National policies and laws are the cause of many challenges. In many countries in the region, international students are not entitled to a residence permit that would allow them to look for a job after completing their university education. Many talents that come to the Baltic Sea Region to work also have difficulty obtaining a work permit.
“When fighting bureaucracy is the very first thing you need to do when you arrive, you feel less welcome and less inclined to stay in your new country,” Andersson says.
When it comes to learning the local language, it is important to target international students early on and make language courses more accessible. Information about how important it is to speak Finnish in order to find a job in Finland, for example, needs to be more readily available. This would also help countries in the Baltic Sea Region create more realistic expectations.
Talent retention issues have in the past been a part of many different areas, such as education, labour market and integration policy. This made it more difficult for key stakeholders to focus on working with talents.
“But we are now seeing new developments in talent retention field”, Andersson says.
“A talent manager, working for a city or a region, might become a more common profession in the future. Copenhagen Capacity, an organisation working with business development, is a good example, because they are now working specifically with talent attraction.”
Examples of best practices
The most important part of the study is the description of concrete actions, innovative projects and best practices.
International House Copenhagen, inaugurated in 2013, is a collaboration between the Danish government, City of Copenhagen, several Danish universities and private companies. It is a ‘one-stop shop’ for international newcomers which provides assistance with official paperwork, advice on job hunting. It introduces the new citizens with life in Denmark, provides help with creating social network, writing a CV or finding work for accompanying spouses.
Finnish universities and regions have for the past few years been designing and implementing methods for better integration of international students into Finnish society. There are mentoring programmes that connect students with businesses and entrepreneurs while others recruit students as coaches for Finnish companies that wish to operate internationally. Family Friendship programmes aim to introduce the international students to Finnish culture and lifestyle through contacts with local families, also promoting intercultural communication.
Talent retention in Sweden
Internationally, Sweden has a strong and well-known brand, making it comparatively easy to attracttalent.
“Sweden has very few initiatives that go beyond attracting talent”, Andersson says.
“In Scandinavia, Finland and Denmark have probably made more progress in attracting and retaining talent because they do not have the advantage of the Swedish brand and need to make more effort.”
Two good examples from Sweden that Andersson mentions are the Global Expat Centre Stockholm, a non-profit organisation that provides post-relocation services to newly arrived talents and their families, and Swedish Institute’s work with talent mobility.
Andersson also believes that Sweden needs to invest more efforts into policy changes that will help retain international students.
“We have made the foreign students’ situation extra difficult”, he says.
“There are tuition fees for students from outside the European Economic Area. Besides, they cannot stay in Sweden and look for a job after they graduate. For many students it can be a decisive factor when they choose a country to study in. Sweden could be in for a shock, if we do not take action soon.”
Mobility versus retention
“Mobility is really the key issue here, and it includes talent retention”, Andersson says.
“Integration is important for mobility, since there are scientific studies showing that the better you’re received during your first international experience, the more mobile you become later.”
Having a good experience of working and living in another country can boost the talents’ self-confidence, meaning that better integration leads to increased mobility. It is possible that we simply need to aim to retain professionals longer than is the case today. When international talents leave the region, we should see them as ambassadors and alumni, instead of lost opportunities. If they have had a good experience in the BSR, perhaps they will be back after 10 years, bringing new knowledge and expertise.
Target groups and challenges
The major goal of the Talent Retention work package of the One BSR -project is to promote the image of the Baltic Sea Region as an attractive area for skilled professionals. This is achieved by engaging the key stakeholders to work towards the best practices and policies necessary to retain talent in the region.
The situation analysis is targeted to policy makers, civil administration and municipalities in the Baltic Sea Region, to help them to gain insight into issues surrounding talent attraction and talent retention. One of the key issues in talent retention is the need to increase collaboration between government organisations, universities and the industry (triple helix), also involving social entrepreneurs and non-profit organisations in quadruple helix projects.
The biggest challenges for the Baltic Sea Region are still the development of the BSR brand, increasing mobility within the region, retaining local talent as well as attracting talent to the BSR.