How can talents increase the competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Region?

Almedalen_375The global competition for talent is poised to become one of the most defining economic issue of the 21st century. On 30 June, the Swedish Institute arranged together with the Baltic Development Forum a seminar in Almedalen, Visby, Sweden, on the theme How access to key skills can increase the Baltic Sea Region competitiveness.

The focus of the seminar was the need for cities and regions in the area to become better at retaining talent – the key skills – for the region to become more competitive.

In the panel discussion, people involved in talent mobility issues shared their experience and expertise on this topic. What is needed to attract and keep both international and local talents in the region, and how the access to talents is linked the region’s ability to attract investment?

The panel was attended by Torgil Lenning (moderator), CEO, Potentialpark, Christina Mattisson, Regional Councillor, Region Blekinge, Marcus Andersson, Chief operating officer, Tendensor, Mantas Zalatorius, Area Manager Central and Eastern Europe, Business Sweden, Tove Lifvendahl, political Editor in Chief, Svenska Dagbladet.

Tool-kit_Cover_275xThe seminar also highlighted the recently published Toolkit on talent retention: activities and services for welcoming, receiving and integrating talents in cities and regions in the Baltic Sea Region.

The purpose of the Toolkit is to encourage local and regional public sector actors to enhance their efforts to welcome, receive and integrate international talents, as well as provide them with concrete tools to do so. It also aims to increase multi-stakeholders efforts to retain local talents.

The Toolkit starts with a strategic roadmap for planning and implementing talent retention efforts. The roadmap is followed by the main best practices identified in the Situation Analysis: Talent retention policy and initiatives in the Baltic Sea Region.

The Toolkit presents the tools, services and activities, their purposes, main target groups, success factors and examples. It also brings up the different needs of the different target groups, such as expats or students.

In its final chapter, the Toolkit discusses ideas for future opportunities for transnational Baltic Sea Region collaboration in talent retention that have emerged in work leading up to the Toolkit.

The Toolkit is one of the main publications of the Talent retention –work package of the One Baltic Sea Region (One BSR) project, and it has been commissioned by the Swedish Institute together with Tendensor.

The Toolkit is available to download HERE.

Photo: Camilla Wristel, Swedish Institute

Talent retention situation analysis: what are the current policies and best practices in the Baltic Sea Region?

Situation-analysis_225xTalent retention is an issue that will become increasingly important in the future. The population of Europe is aging and more talents from non-European countries will be recruited.

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.”

Major findings

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.

Download the talent retention situation analysis here

From Cold to Cool – Why it is great to Study in Sweden

An architecture student from Sardinia, Italy, came to study in Luleå, Northern Sweden – but why? An article by Angela Lise Frank, Student of Architecture, University of Sassari (Italy) and Luleå University of Technology (Sweden)

Being Erasmus in Sweden

I am a student from University of Sassari, Department of Architecture, and I decided to spend my Spring Semester in Sweden through the Erasmus programme. I come from Sardinia, an island surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, in which culture, life and way to make architecture and design are quite different from the Scandinavian countries.

Sweden is – as other Scandinavian countries – open to intercultural exchanges, and one of the first things I noticed was the high attention of Swedes on keeping a comfortable life in order to maintain their type of a welfare state. This country also provides a great opportunity for an Italian architecture student like me to explore a new world because it is the country of modern architecture, design and ecofriendly technology.

The region of Norrbotten offers a good example of Swedish style of life but what makes this region different from the others is its Lapp and Finnish cultures in addition to Swedish culture. The nature in itself is impressive: Northern Lights, fjords and frozen sea are just few of the awesome experiences people can have here.

Staying in Sweden for four months (from 10th January), I had great experiences thanks to which I matured both professionally and mentally.

Luleå University of Technology – Warm Welcome in a Cold Climate

In Norrbotten you can find the northernmost university of technology of Scandinavia: located at about 100 km from the Polar Circle, Luleå University of Technology offers sensational experiences and it is one of the best universities in Scandinavia as for technological researches and studies of materials.

During the first two weeks of staying in Luleå, the University organizes meetings in order to let exchange students meet with each other; LURC (Luleå University Reception Committee) is an association of Swedish students and they take care of international students from the very moment they decide to come in Sweden: they guarantee a good stay, accommodation, buddies and anything that can help a foreign student to feel more comfortable.

At Luleå University the approach towards studies is different from Italy: in Sweden I have few hours of lectures and laboratories per day (about one and two – in Italy I can have eight hours of lesson per day) and there are more homework and assignments, so that the student keeps working at home and has spare time to study.

Environmental Friendly Architecture

What interested me most was how Luleå University of Technology approaches to design in a place with so hard a weather. Since the beginning I was impressed by the way in Luleå everything is designed thinking about ice and cold; for that, in Swedish architecture technology is more important than anything else and they have an interesting view according to environmental friendly architecture.

I experienced this hard weather myself, especially following a course called Snow & Ice for that I had to design a building thinking about the cold weather of Luleå and in which I studied the polar climate both in a physical and technological way. In this course I even did a field exercise in Arvidsjaur (a locality in the province of Lapland) with the Swedish Forces Unit for Cold Weather Operations: during the field exercise, I increased my knowledge of cold climate through experiential learning.

If an Exchange student is interested in studying in Luleå, it is good to mention that the University offers courses in English and most of the professors come from foreign countries.

Luleå guarantees a stay which is much more cool than cold.
The article is produced as part of the ONE BSR project which among other issues focus on how to attract and retain talents to the Baltic Sea Region.
Originally published at

Talent mobility from a life science perspective

One of the many issues discussed within the One BSR project is the retention of skilled individuals in the areas of health and life science. In October 2013, Sweco completed and published a case study of talent retention in the Stockholm-Uppsala region, which has a strong life science cluster. It emphasises the need for better marketing of the region and stronger co-operation between universities, public administration and business.

The Swedish Institute discussed talent retention issues with Ylva Williams, CEO of Stockholm Science City Foundation and a member of the Advisory Board for talent retention in One BSR. The aim of Stockholm Science City Foundation is to create an attractive environment for life sciences in Stockholm, achieving this by promoting cross-sectional collaborations and development of innovative products and services.

Why is talent retention in the area of life sciences important?

‘Naturally, it is important for regional development to keep talents that universities, companies and the government sector has invested in. I would like to point out that talent retention is not the opposite of brain drain, since talent mobility is also important for the region. Thus, talents leaving a country and settling in another is not negative in itself. It may mean that an individual retains his/her network at the previous place of work, which creates new opportunities for exchange of knowledge and skills between the two countries. In addition, these talented individuals may become ambassadors for the country they had left, provided that the change of place was not due to negative experiences.’

How would you describe talent mobility in the Baltic Sea Region from a life science perspective?

‘There is a great deal of mobility when it comes to life science, especially among PhDs and post-docs. It should be pointed out that this is a question of moving between countries with high-ranking universities. This means that in the Baltic Sea Region, talents mainly move between Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and to some extent Russia. The situation analysis that is produced by the One BSR project and describes talent mobility in the Baltic Sea Region also provides a very good overview of the talent mobility in the life science area.’

Is there anything special about talent retention in the area of life science? What are the main challenges?

‘I would argue that there is nothing unique about life science talent retention. There is no difference between life science and other areas that need highly skilled and well-educated individuals. One of the main challenges could be marketing our region with regard to soft values that people might not know about when moving to the region: security, clean air, close proximity to nature, child care, education and so on.’

What tools would we need to develop in order to improve talent mobility in our region?

‘We need soft landing tools, meaning that we take care of accompanying spouses and families and create social networks for them. It is not always that easy to get to know Swedish people. I think that this is something we can significantly improve upon.’

What would be the first step in the process of improving and developing life science talent mobility in the region?

‘It is certainly important to work cross-sectionally. Also, it is important to see what other regions are doing and learn from both success stories and failures. We should also have well-defined messages when we present our region in order to be more visible internationally.’


City of Stockholm
Helen Slättman,
Elisabet Bremberg,

Swedish Institute
Camilla Wristel,

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:

Estonia’s talent policy needs better management and co-ordination

The problems of attracting foreign labour and keeping it are recognised in Estonia both by the state and by employers, but priorities have not yet been determined. Also a clear agreement about how strategic choices should be made in the context of talent policy is lacking.

At the talent policy seminar held in the Parliament of Estonia this week, Praxis analyst Laura Kirss stated that several important steps have been taken to make it easier for companies to hire highly qualified labour from abroad. For example, the Aliens Act is amended, a scientific staff grant is introduced for companies and the options for acquiring an international education have broadened.

“However, all of these activities are aimed at solving existing problems, i.e. the nature of these actions is reactive”, Kirss explained.

“Such actions are not sufficient to make Estonia more attractive as a country of employment for workers of other countries. Bringing additional labour to Estonia requires a consensus about who we’re looking for and where we are looking for them as well as what value we could offer to people who do decide to come here. ”

The conclusion made in the Praxis study is that Estonia’s small size and budget require serious consideration of the use of the resources in the coming years.

“Enterprise Estonia is already preparing the concept and they’ve got other initiatives in the pipeline”, explains Kirss. She also emphasises the importance of carrying out such activities together and supporting others.

“Central management and a good coordination system are certainly necessary, as studies have shown that both have been lacking so far.”

At the seminar the foreign talent policy expert Marcus Andersson from Tendensor, Sweden, introduced different options for talent policy management. Andersson pointed out that European countries have usually had their talent policy managed by the public sector, whereby changes in the area are initiated by the state or its entities.

Kats Kivistik from the Institute of Baltic Studies introduced the results of a recent survey of adaptation by new migrants and a possible approach to Estonia’s immigration policy. The survey revealed that the quality of information exchange and cooperation must be improved both at the local and at the national level. It’s also necessary to raise the awareness and readiness of employers to recruit the foreigners who’ve acquired higher education in Estonia, who’ve already adapted to life over here and who would bring added value to the labour market.

The seminar was a part of the One Baltic Sea Region Project. The presentations made at the seminar can be viewed on the Praxis website.

Laura Kirss
Education Policy Programme Director at Praxis

Eneli Mikko
Communications Manager at Praxis