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Live, Work and Study
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New insights into talent attraction and retention

Two new studies have provided fresh insights on how to attract international talent and how to make sure this talent is retained. According to both studies, quality of life continues to be a crucial factor for talent deciding whether to relocate. In fact, the Netherlands was one of the countries to provide the best settling-in experience.

The importance of international talent

A topic of global relevance, attraction and retention of international talent is driven by three main factors. Firstly, the internationalisation of the labour market is showing no signs of letting up. Secondly, international opportunities continue to grow due to talent scarcity in many industries across countries. And thirdly, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of diverse teams.

Rising international student populations are closely linked to these factors. Often, a degree abroad serves as an entry point for international talent looking to break into the local job market. In its new study, ‘Staying after graduation’, Nuffic looked specifically into the reasons why international students and graduates decide to stay or leave the Netherlands. Quality of life came out as a key determinant. They also found that international students helped fill existing shortages of highly qualified personnel, for example in sectors such as technology and healthcare.

However, according to the International Talent Map (conducted by Linköping Science Park, Future Place Leadership, European Talent Mobility Forum, and Vinnova), a survey based on insights from companies, students and working professionals across selected European countries, they forecast that recruitment will only become more difficult in the coming years. Talent retention, they say, is a “a significant concern.” Therefore, it’s important to understand the push and pull factors around retaining and attracting the right talent.

Why people stay

Looking at the results of the survey by the International Talent Map, the Netherlands and Estonia were praised for offering the best settling in experience. Work-life balance, good career opportunities, the work culture and economic security were cited as major factors influencing decisions to relocate. This ties in closely with the results of the Nuffic study which highlighted quality of life as the driving factor for international talent retention and attraction.

Some respondents to the Nuffic survey also mentioned that they liked the Dutch working culture, because they found it less hierarchical, more transparent, open and direct. Personal factors such as having a partner in the Netherlands also influenced their decision-making.

Overall, internationals stay for reasons beyond just their immediate career prospects. As a result, the authors of the International Talent Map advise that ‘places and employers need to help each other, providing the recipe for success that is the 24-7 user journey – a life far beyond the job opportunity’.

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Challenges for those that stayed

This includes identifying the challenges that internationals often face and addressing them. Nuffic’s study sheds light on some of the challenges faced by international graduates that chose to stay on in the Netherlands:

  • 7 out of 10 experienced challenges with Dutch language requirements in job vacancies.
  • 6 out of 10 had trouble finding suitable housing.
  • 3 out of 10 experienced discrimination at work or during job interviews.
  • Almost 4 out of 10 experienced language barriers at work.
  • Almost 6 out 10 lacked a social network after graduation.

Why people leave

These concerns were also found in the International Talent Map research. According to their findings, the main barriers to remaining in a foreign country are living far away from family and friends, an unfriendly or unwelcoming country, and the lack of a support network and social life.

More practical and immediate considerations are also mentioned by Nuffic; more than half of the graduates that left the Netherlands did so because they couldn’t find suitable work, and 6 out of 10 non-EEA (European Economic Area) alumni left because they were unable to secure a job or residence permit. This is mirrored in a key insight from the International Talent Map: the main barriers for companies hiring international talents are “a long processing time for work permits, language challenges and cultural challenges”.

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Talent profiles

The International Talent Map survey also provides insights into the differences in preferences and challenges among various sub-groups, such as STEM graduates vs non-STEM graduates, those who identified as single vs those with families, students vs professionals, and male vs female talent. When looking closer into specific talent profiles, exchange students expressed the most satisfaction with their decision to relocate to the Netherlands, whereas job seekers and bachelor students were least satisfied.

Talent in the most sought-after fields, such as IT and engineering, were also the ones that were more satisfied with their lives in general in a new country, and they found the settling-in experience to be easier than the others. There were also differences in the drivers for accepting a job offer abroad. Professional growth and work-life balance were statistically much more important to STEM profiles than non-STEM profiles, whereas specific career opportunities, personal reasons and an improved financial situation mattered much more to non-STEM respondents.

Conclusions: increasing international talent retention

Both studies take a holistic view on what convinces talent to move or stay. “It is not about the place or the job, it is about both!”, states the International Talent Map in its overview of key insights. According to the Nuffic study, “the decision to stay or leave is determined by multiple factors: professional, societal (social, political, cultural environments of the host country and a graduate’s country of origin), and legal frameworks for migration.”

Work-life balance, and professional growth and career opportunities, rather than financial incentives offered by employment contracts, are the main drivers for deciding to live in another country and when accepting a specific job offer.

With this in mind, the authors of the International Talent Map survey have provided a number of recommendations for companies employing international talent. The first is that it’s important to establish inclusive language practices in workplaces and/or provide language course to employees and their families. The operational language in workplaces is a critical aspect. The second recommendation is that “it’s crucial for companies to ensure their culture is compatible with the diverse needs of their international workforce.”

A third recommendation is to offer part-time jobs or internships to international students. The data shows that if they get relevant work experience, international students are more likely to think that the new country offers good career opportunities and support. In addition, they are more positive about making new friends.

The authors of the International Talent Map survey also state that international welcome centres are key to helping talent overcome many of the barriers they face. These centres can make navigating a new country easier by welcoming newcomers with the practical information, resources and connections they need to settle in and build their support networks. Within the Amsterdam Area, IN Amsterdam has been supporting internationals, their families and the companies that employ them for over 15 years.  

Finally, companies are also urged to focus on providing career development opportunities: “This aligns with the aspirations of talents seeking not just a job, but a pathway for career progression.”

On a similar vein, Nuffic’s research finds that the factors that were most helpful in making graduates feel at home were a pleasant work environment, a supportive social network and access to knowledge about practical matters.

Hopefully, these insights will serve as a foundation for companies and professionals, empowering them to better understand the factors at play and formulate robust action plans to support their international talent.