Amsterdam as an emerging European tech hub

Amsterdam has long had a reputation for its knowledge economy, but in recent years it is the city’s emergence as a European tech hub that has grabbed global headlines. “There are a lot of things that begin in Amsterdam and then the rest of the world takes note,” says Lisa Trapman of recruitment specialist Aquent, which has seen the demand for creative and digital talent soar.

“Coming to Amsterdam was a no-brainer,” says Trapman, Aquent’s Country Manager in the Netherlands. “It was and still is a design hotspot. It’s a place where designers want to be. I regularly meet people who’ve worked all over but they choose to stay in or come back to Amsterdam because of the work-life balance, because it’s so accessible.”

Coming to Amsterdam

Trapman also cites the digital infrastructure as a key determining factor: the Netherlands has one of the fastest internet connections in the world. “That’s essential not only for the clients we would like to service but also for our own business. We’re entirely cloud-based. That makes the world a really small place if you’re trying to find the best user experience person in the market. You don’t have to look simply at Amsterdam or even the Netherlands, you can shout that out around the globe.”

In the tradition of successful American companies that began life in a college dorm room – Facebook, Dell and WordPress among them – Aquent’s history began at Harvard in 1986 when John Chuang, Steve Kapner and Mia Wenjen started a desktop publishing business. That morphed into a temporary staffing firm specialised in creative, digital and marketing. It was renamed Aquent in 1999 and today has 37 offices in seven countries and more than 11,000 professionals working at around 3,000 companies. Aquent’s Amsterdam office opened 15 years ago.

Aquent typically works with Fortune 500 companies such as Adidas and Philips, but its portfolio also includes creative agencies and start-ups. “We hire for contract, temporary and freelance jobs. Some 80% of our talent is freelancers because the freelance landscape in Amsterdam is so conducive. That’s the exact opposite ratio of the US and UK.”

The flexibility of freelancers

“Freelancers give organisations the flexibility to add or relieve capacity as needed,” she continues. “But perhaps more importantly, they’ve seen other companies, they can share best practices and bring fresh eyes to a situation. That’s not to say the people internally are incapable of doing that, but it’s rarely their main focus. The best freelancer is someone who can come in, lay out a road map with the permanent team and enable that team to see it through.”

When asked whether startups can afford to recruit through a staffing firm, Trapman points to another unique feature of the Amsterdam job market. “We have a lot of highly skilled people who are available for two or three days a week and sometimes that’s all you need as a start-up to manage the risk of financial investment as well as having experienced resources in-house.”

Tapping into local expertise

Most newcomers to Amsterdam arrive with similar questions, says Trapman, and local expertise is invaluable for ensuring a smooth transition. She stresses the importance of organisations like amsterdam inbusiness, the city’s official foreign investment agency, which partners with specialists in tax, real estate, immigration, employment and other relevant sectors and can arrange free introductions.

“Without being too overwhelming, we initially spend about an hour with a new client talking about the talent market, benchmarks for salaries and rates, and what their team in Amsterdam could look like. But whatever the client’s specific needs, my overall advice is always: take a deep breath, it’s not as scary as you think. Essentially, the Dutch want to see you succeed and I think it’s great to have that mentality in your corner.”