Treat others how you want to be treated. It was one of the first lessons Nicole Zwetsloot learned at home, in the small village in the south of the Netherlands where she grew up. But along the way, she learned that it may not have been such a good lesson at all. You shouldn’t treat others the way you want to be treated, but the way they want to be treated. In other words: you have to get to know your target group. And then address them in the way that appeals most to them. And that, according to Zwetsloot, can be quite different from the way you want to be addressed.
“We have more vacancies than we have people. And that’s been the case for quite a while.”
It is one of life’s lessons that comes in handy now that she is Project Manager of the Brainport Talent Attraction Programme, a programme to attract coordinated and collaborative international tech and IT talent to numerous companies and organisations in the Brainport region of Eindhoven, renowned for being known as the ‘smartest region in the world’. The need is great among most of the participants, Zwetsloot recently told the people in attendance at the very first Congress on the Internationalisation of the Labour Market, held in the Netherlands. “We have more vacancies than we have people. And that’s been the case for quite a while.”
Talent as fuel
“Talent is the fuel for our technological engine”, she told the audience. And it has been the case in the Eindhoven region for more than a hundred years — as Philips has recruited talent from other regions for a number of years. But there’s more history behind the way Brainport has operated as a location for cooperation. “It originates from the poor land in the region”, Zwetsloot explains. “As a result, cooperation was necessary to survive. It’s all about joining forces and doing together what you cannot do alone. That’s the basis for what we do now in terms of talent attraction.”
“We have to make sure we have all hands on deck in all talent functions. All the way from intake to ensure people are promoted, retained and developed.”
The forecast, however, is quite gloomy. For the forthcoming seven years, leading up to 2030, Brainport Eindhoven expects to have 72,000 jobs that need to be filled. “We’ve seen an increase in vacancies versus a decrease in the available workforce”, Zwetsloot says. “So we have to make sure we have all hands on deck in all talent functions. Both qualitatively and quantitively. All the way from intake to ensure people are promoted, retained and developed.”
And that starts with being in constant contact with all companies Zwetsloot works for. “And that’s not just limited to large enterprises”, she argues. “That’s a common misconception; that it’s only interesting for them. But SMEs and start-ups shouldn’t be forgotten. If you’re eyeing a similar project, make sure you involve a representative group of employers in your region. You have to look broadly, to the whole ecosystem — rather than at individual business interests.”
A three-step plan
Knowing who you are looking for is part one of the equation. That answer is quite simple, according to Zwetsloot: “Techies and IT people.” Then the following question beckons: where do you get them from? “For that, in addition to input from employers and inflow figures, Brainport relies on benchmarks and research. “We look at the number of graduates, push and pull factors, employment and unemployment numbers and the quality of education.”
“Together, we come up with groundbreaking innovations with which we solve global social issues.”
Based on all of the data, Brainport accumulated a list of 30 countries to focus on. Then came the third step: with what to reach them? For this, Zwetsloot and Brainport devised a pay-off in 2020: The Home of Pioneers. “It fits nicely with our core values: human and groundbreaking. Home of pioneers, on the one hand, tells the story of our human character. Everyone should be able to feel at home. On the other hand, we also tell the story of pioneering. Together, we come up with groundbreaking innovations with which we solve global social issues.”
Regional Value Proposition
Whereas most employers formulate a so-called Employer Value Proposition, Zwetsloot focused on a Regional Value Proposition for the entire Brainport Eindhoven. “So you look for the international profile of the region, its attractiveness as a place of business for international talent.” In other words: what exactly are the region’s distinguishing factors that would appeal to tech and IT talent? And standing out from others is not only becoming increasingly important, she says, but also increasingly difficult.
“Don’t forget that in many cases talent will move to your region, sometimes with their partner and their children. A job ad that simply conveys a nice job, pleasant colleagues and good working conditions just isn’t enough.”
“Other regions also profile themselves as a region with a good work/life balance, an innovative ecosystem and green surroundings. So beyond a distinctive message, we need to start being more specific, and: we need to deliver. Don’t forget that in many cases talent will move to your region, sometimes with their partner and their children. Keeping that in mind, a job ad that simply conveys a nice job, pleasant colleagues and good working conditions just isn’t enough.”
To formulate an RVP properly, Zwetsloot not only hired an international content writer for Brainport Eindhoven, but also set up a sounding board group with internationals living and working in the region. “With them, we started specifying our message more and more. Resulting in, among other things, the definition of a number of ‘breakthrough key technologies’ such as photonics, A.I. and micro- and nanotechnology.”
“You will have to choose not to lose.”
Specifics became a key word in the South of the Netherlands. “What we are actually going to do is get more specific, focus even more on the technologies of the future. Techniques that may be present at a few fewer companies now, but which we know will be further integrated into our ecosystem. It all stems from the idea: you will have to choose not to lose.”
“Based on those technologies, we mapped the required competences (soft and hard skills) per technology through labour market data, including talent intelligence from Intelligence Group. We then compiled a set of keywords and filtered on the curricula of English-language training programmes around the world. Finally, we looked at which countries where talent who are interested in learning these skills come from, and started looking at their international mobility after completing their studies. With this data, we can move on to the new phase of talent attraction, and start again at step one.”
The playground for talent
Attracting international employees can not only fill a need when vacancies cannot be filled in the Netherlands, it can also contribute to cultural diversity, and thus to the innovative power of organisations, according to development company Brainport Development. Zwetsloot, who comes from the employment and reintegration sector, has been working on it for more than three years now. But she prefers not to speak about a war for talent. “Let’s have less war”, she says. That is why she prefers: the playground for talent.
And in doing so, Brainport Eindhoven also throws other values into the fray in comparison to a few years ago. “In 2017, we researched the customer journey. Back then, it mainly showed that they want to do something significant, work on societal challenges and high-quality innovations. The drivers were mainly career-related. Last year, we repeated that survey, and now the work content turned out to be more of a norm. They can now get that anywhere in the world. Why they choose our region now appears to be more the social character as well as the good work/life balance. So that’s what we’ve opted for in everything we show: on our websites, and in every campaign we run.”
‘In it together’
The success of Brainport Eindhoven is often attributed to the so-called ‘Triple Helix model’, in other words: the good cooperation between industry, knowledge institutes and governments in the region. But Zwetsloot prefers even to talk about a ‘Quadriple Helix’. “Because we also involve residents and internationals in our programmes.” Which brings her back to that ‘unique propensity for cooperation in the region’.
“In our region, we all rely on each other to survive. We have to be in it together.”
“We get delegations coming to us from all over the world”, she says. “They all want to know our secret. But there is no secret at all. Because we owe everything to Philips. We still understand the art of cooperation. It is deeply rooted in our DNA. We’re all about: what can we do for you? Sometimes the interests differ between large and small organisations, for example. But then, soon enough, we’ll sit down and come out of it stronger and with that sense of togetherness. Because in our region, we all rely on each other to survive. We have to be in it together.”
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