First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Alison McGarry

There is a reciprocal relationship between Amsterdam and the talent it attracts. As business continues to thrive, with increasing numbers of multinational companies and adventurous start-ups setting up shop, spurred on by an accelerating shift towards a circular economy, talent is in hot demand. And that’s a fantastic problem to have. By looking at the issue from all sides and working collaboratively to attract employees from overseas, Amsterdam is leading the way by providing an exceptionally high standard of education, engaging in improving the quality of life of its international community, and being a champion of diversity in the workforce.

‘What do you need?’ It’s a simple question, but one that is so rarely posed to a city’s international residents. However, in Amsterdam – where innovation, progressive policies and entrepreneurial thinking prevails – it actively tasks itself with finding out exactly what would entice more international talent to call it home.

The Open Amsterdam strategy for international talent is a manifestation of this very question. Representatives from the local government, universities, healthcare providers, companies and community-oriented organisations in Amsterdam have collaborated on devising a plan to address these needs, falling into three broad categories – namely, education, work and quality of life. Involving internationals in the discussion through open meetings and workshops is a way in which Amsterdam and its international citizens work together to make improvements in areas of international schooling, housing and access to the labour market.

Assistance for newcomers

The driving force behind the Open Amsterdam strategy is IN Amsterdam (International Newcomers Amsterdam). Previously known as Expatcenter Amsterdam, this organisation works as a facilitator between companies and international newcomers, helping to arrange necessary visas, work permits and other documentation that comes with relocating to a new country. Through the assistance of IN Amsterdam, companies that are looking to hire talent from abroad can even begin the initial immigration procedures before the employee steps on a plane, meaning all the essential paperwork is done and dusted upon their arrival.

In 2016, IN Amsterdam achieved 16 per cent growth and assisted more than 12,000 international newcomers in Amsterdam. Further growth of 15-20 per cent is expected for the coming year, inspiring the organisation to relocate to larger premises to meet the rising demand and provide space to expand their core services as needs arise. As a further part of its rebranding from the Expatcenter Amsterdam, IN Amsterdam is working more closely with amsterdam inbusiness to implement ideas for attracting talent. 

For the established and the new

Fortunately, immigration procedures in the Netherlands are frequently shaped with talent acquisition in mind. The highly-skilled migrant scheme is one such initiative that enables employees who are from outside the European Union to work in the Netherlands, providing they meet a certain salary threshold. A tax benefit, known as the 30 per cent reimbursement ruling applies to these migrants, making the move particularly advantageous. Amsterdam’s universities and higher-education providers have been proactive in expanding their international student bodies, and are now seeing an increased number of their students remaining in the country after graduating. To promote these efforts, IN Amsterdam worked closely with national governmental partners to help introduce the orientation year permit, which enables recent international graduates to work or intern for one year in the Netherlands while searching for their dream job. This guarantee of a fixed residence permit for a year removes significant pressure from their job search. They can even apply for this initiative up to three years after graduating, allowing them the chance to return to their home country before coming back to the Dutch capital to pursue their careers.

Never a city to rest on its laurels, Amsterdam, one of the world’s top start-up capitals, also implemented welcoming immigration procedures to encourage international entrepreneurs to launch their business ideas in the city. The start-up visa (‘scheme for start-ups’) grants international start-ups a permit to live in the Netherlands while setting their innovative business proposals in motion. As they find their feet among Amsterdam’s supportive business community, the new start-ups can work to become eligible to receive an extended residence permit as self-employed people. This not only attracts ambitious innovators to Amsterdam, but gives them reason to remain and contribute to economic growth in what has come to be known as one of the top three countries with the lowest business costs.

Of course, the frenzy of business activity taking place in the city has an additional positive impact on internationals who’ve already made the move. Whether they were brought to Amsterdam by an international employer or attracted by the history, lifestyle and opportunities, the increasing number of career opportunities available give internationals-turned-locals more reason than ever to stay. A natural consequence of this influx of international talent, and their accompanying families, is that demand has risen for international schools in the region. The city is addressing this and strives to improve the quality of life for internationals through its Deltaplan, aimed at rapidly expanding existing international schools and opening new ones, while also making Dutch schools more international through bilingual education streams and special bridge classes for children just beginning to learn Dutch.

A highly-educated workforce

Amsterdam’s higher-education offering consistently ranks among the world’s best. The largest education providers – the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), Inholland University of Applied Sciences and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) – are especially committed to welcoming international students and offer a varied selection of study programmes in English. Bilingual lecturers, English-language course materials and international student networks make studying in Amsterdam an attractive option, even for international, non-Dutch speaking students. Also, several educational institutes in Amsterdam are working to increase the knowledge base in sectors where it will be most beneficial. These specialised education providers attract international students looking to obtain qualifications in niche industries and areas experiencing a high level of growth.

The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) is one such organisation that strives to find practical solutions to complex urban challenges. The institute instigates cooperation between a diverse range of disciplines to devise innovative approaches to sustainability, food security, water and waste management, and health. In September 2017, AMS launches its new Master of Science programme: Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering (MSc MADE). This study programme will prepare graduates for facilitating collaborations between government departments, companies, investors and citizens to implement ideas. These interdisciplinary engineers could significantly contribute to Amsterdam’s business climate in the years to come.

Collaboration is also the ethos behind the recently-opened Amsterdam School of Data Science. This venture shares knowledge and resources between the VU, UvA, AUAS, and Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (Centre for Mathematics & Computing Science). Amsterdam’s reputation in the increasingly data-driven world of business will undoubtedly benefit from more graduates in this field. By offering a wide choice of study programmes in what is tipped to be ‘the sexiest job of the 21st century’ by Harvard Business Review, the Amsterdam School of Data Science is set to attract ambitious talent from around the world.

Specialised educational opportunities in Amsterdam don’t stop there. B. Startup School Amsterdam (BSSA) saw an opportunity to close the gap between higher-educated 20-somethings in need of experience and the vast number of Amsterdam-based start-ups hunting for skilled staff. TheBSSA equips these job seekers with the tangible skills that start-ups most frequently require, such as coding, growth hacking and content creation, making them valuable assets to daring entrepreneurs.

There has even been a drive to introduce a much younger age group to the exciting world of digital technology. Thanks to organisations like Coding for Amsterdam, primary schools are shown how to integrate coding skills into their curriculums. The philosophy behind this project is to give children first-hand experience with digital technologies and allow them to experience how creatively rewarding working with code can be. Coding for Amsterdam is a prime example of the city’s commitment to fostering a new generation of talent.

Today, all students can access top-level education in Amsterdam, whatever their passion or skillset may be. United POP, the international arm of Deutsche POP, provides specialised education in music and the media industry. Webster University offers a Master’s degree in cyber security to keep up with one of the country’s fastest growing industries. New York Code & Design Academy has recognised the potential in Amsterdam’s IT sector and selected the city as its only location outside of the United States. House of Denim has not only well and truly cemented Amsterdam as the centre of the denim industry, but has paved the way for a new generation of denim lovers to continue this tradition at the world’s first and only Jean School, which also offers a one-year programme for international students.

Aside from arming students with globally-recognised qualifications, Amsterdam goes one step further and assists new graduates in landing their first job. The International Talent Event Amsterdam (ITEA) is a not-for-profit initiative organised in collaboration between amsterdam inbusiness, Amsterdam Economic Board, IN Amsterdam, UvA, VU, HVA and Inholland. ITEA works as a go-between for students and a broad range of companies: introducing ambitious talent to prospective employers and training students in the art of job seeking. During the event, students can receive personalised advice on their CV and career plans, learn tips for presenting themselves on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, gain experience in interview situations and make direct connections via match-making sessions.

Celebrating diversity

Positioning Amsterdam as a prime location for internationals to live and work is one thing, but encouraging newcomers to stay for the long term is the next challenge. Allowing for ease of integration and celebrating the city’s cultural diversity is crucial to making internationals feel at home. With an economy built on trade, the Netherlands has traditionally had an international outlook. Today, this is more the case than ever, as the nation can attest to having one of the highest levels of English proficiency in the world. By their very nature, cities represent a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, however Amsterdam is unique in that its multiculturalism goes back as far as the 17th century. The 180 Nationalities Project demonstrates just how diverse the city is. Representatives from 180 different national backgrounds shared their stories about what it’s like to live in Amsterdam and how they came to call the city home. Having so many nationalities in a comparatively small European city means that workplaces are multicultural, multilingual and better equipped to compete on a world stage.

Of course, Amsterdam’s diverse workforce also extends to gender balance. The Netherlands has a long-standing reputation for its progressive policies and egalitarian attitude in business and in life. Many initiatives are currently in place to promote gender balance within industries where women are under-represented. This year, the prestigious Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam music academy introduced the Darcy Proper Scholarship, which grants a full year’s tuition to one deserving recipient. Although anyone who meets the criteria can apply, the scholarship is designed to promote women in the largely male-dominated music industry.  

Amsterdam has also quickly responded to the gender gap within the IT sector, one of the city’s most profitable and buzz-worthy industries. Initiatives such as Project Prep, a novel written by Niki Smit and the brainchild of Janneke Niessen, aims to inspire girls aged 10 to 14 to consider a career in technology by presenting the exciting world of IT in a more accessible way. The book is part of a campaign by ‘Inspiring Fifty’, a European-wide drive to advance women in leadership positions in the field of IT. Another initiative with a similar goal is ‘Smart City Challenges for Girls’.

This competition is held in five cities throughout the Netherlands, putting primary-school girls to the test as it combines creative challenges with digital technology. Encouraging cultural diversity is another way in which Amsterdam has been able to attract and maintain talent from every corner of the world. It comes as no surprise then, that the city recognises international refugees as valuable assets to both society and economy. The Amsterdam Approach to Asylum Status Holders is a joint venture between several departments within the city. The programme provides customised support that enables refugees to enter or re-enter the workforce as early as possible. Dedicated case managers offer guidance and assistance, tailoring career opportunities to the individual’s professional and educational experience. By organising language courses, orientation programmes, assistance with finding employment, and secondary or higher education, the project helps refugees to acclimatise to life in Amsterdam. 

Ready for the future

With so much in motion, Amsterdam’s international appeal is unmistakable. Part of its charm lies in the fact that its 17th-century grandeur, canals and even historic windmills sit harmoniously alongside daring architectural development, modern sustainability initiatives and global business brands. This balance holds due to continuous collaborations between governmental, business and academic parties, while treating citizens as stakeholders. And when it comes to tackling issues honestly, a solid dash of that a forementioned Dutch pragmatism is essential, too. All initiatives put in place to attract and retain international talent in Amsterdam have been driven by getting to the very bottom of problems and working collaboratively to devise solutions. The same can surely be said for the issues and solutions of tomorrow. Be it in schools, higher education, work, quality of life or beyond, Amsterdam is taking every necessary step to remain a fantastic home to international students, employees, entrepreneurs and families.