How to Attract and Retain Talent During the Pandemic: Strategies and Examples

On June 18th, leading regional talent attraction management entities across Europe joined forces to share best practices of how to tackle and move ahead of the COVID-19. The event – part of the launch of European Talent Mobility Forum – gained interest from close to 200 government representatives, regional economic development boards, city leaders, global talent, innovation & startup hubs, universities, place branders and place makers from all over the world.

As highlighted by Morten King-Grubert of Future Place Leadership, the overall message to regions and places is that now more than ever, it is time for places to step up and implement the right strategy and operational activities to retain and attract the competences needed to recover and create the growth of tomorrow, post COVID-19.

The speaker line-up was a European tour de force: from Brainport to Bilbao, from Copenhagen to Gothenburg and onward to Estonia.

Attraction campaigns and virtual career fairs

Alex Knowles of Copenhagen Capacity made it clear that, despite closed borders and isolation, certain sectors are growing and in need of international talent. Thus, Copenhagen Capacity has seen interest from companies in running attraction campaigns during the pandemic and actually received satisfactory exposure to, interest from and leads generated from the global talent pool. Yet, they have also seen the need to downplay the messaging around, for example “Happy place to live” or “work-life-balance”, which normally are strong components of the branding activities.

As for the actual hiring process, virtual career fairs have also been a strong tool for the region, in its talent attraction efforts.

Can smaller cities lead digital innovation?

Ivan Jiménez Aira of Bizkaia Talent highlighted how innovation and technology are playing a key role when it comes to talent attraction management. He stressed that very soon we will be able to see many changes about how cities and regions show themselves as attractive places to not only retain but also attract talent for their quality of life and digital connections. In a world where the the importance of physical distances will continue to fade, this is a real opportunity for places which have not been able to compete with the strengths of economic clusters surrounding large cities.

Hacking the crisis, and remote visas

Triin Visnapuu-Sepp of Work in Estonia showcased how Estonia hacked the crisis and put together an online hackathon in record time to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic and emerge from the crisis stronger than ever. Within just 6 hours, over 830 people were working on 96 ideas in the event hosted on Slack, and by now an impressive number of 27 teams are working together to develop solutions to problems surrounding COVID-19 implications.

In addition, Estonia’s government has just created a digital nomad visa, making the country one of the first worldwide to deliberately target internationals who are engaged in jobs that are independent of location and time, mostly in the field of technology, finance or marketing – allowing them to work in Estonia and thereby strengthening the country’s image as a future-oriented, digitally savvy state.

Triple Helix trust is key

Richard Kerste of Brainport Eindhoven argued that in times of the COVID-19 crisis the triple helix collaboration (close collaboration between education, government and business), which had significantly contributed to the success of the high-tech innovation region prior to the lockdowns, has also proven to be successful during this crisis. The strong ties, trust and close contact between the different partners has made it possible to respond quickly to the needs of the international community in the region. A good example is the launch – within a week – of the Corona information portal for internationals, which Brainport developed together with internationals.

Don’t forget your customers!

Niklas Delersjö of Move to Gothenburg highlighted in his presentation the need to keep and develop your global talents during the crisis, pointing out the importance of governmental actions specifically related to the visa situation of international talents in the region, primarily those affected by short-term lay-offs. As he explained, Gothenborg’s focus has been around crisis and impact information targeting international talents, services going digital, improved chat functions, and even Digital Swedish ”fika” sessions with international talents.

Speakers of webinar on talent attraction during the coronavirus pandemic
Speakers at the recent webinar on talent attraction and -retention during COVID-19.

Action: what you can do

Reflecting on the webinar, below are the key learnings from the European Talent Mobility Forum on what places should do related to the attraction and retention of global talent in times of closed borders and other restrictions due to the global pandemic.

Talent attraction

It takes time to get a visa anyway, so by the time your lead is nurtured, borders will most likely be open again, so do what you can in the attraction space as some companies are still hiring. Our advice:

  • Adjust your messaging (don’t focus on: happiest place in the world, work-life balance, health care system etc.)
  • Seize the opportunity to show that you care about more than the competitiveness of your own region or city, and that you are dedicated to working on fixing the challenges created by the current situation (“hack” the crisis, best remote work region, leading digital infrastructure, address the sustainable development goals with us, etc.).
  • Physical matchmaking/events can be converted to digital platforms, as a way of continuing to provide value to your leads and local partners.

Talent retention

We need to go above and beyond in supporting our international talent who are already here and to help them cope with any difficulties arising through the pandemic. Our advice:

  • Make sure public information on the crisis and its implications is available in English in addition to the local language.
  • Many governments launch support packages aimed at helping those facing short-term layoffs – but how do these affect those who are in a country on a work visa that is tied to a very specific employment contract? Be at the forefront of lobby efforts where needed.
  • Isolation is difficult for everyone, but imagine being isolated in a foreign country with fewer friends and network. Help international talent to feel less isolated, by reaching out and offering digital training on remote work and psychological aspects of isolation.

The European Talent Mobility Forum is an initiative by the Nordic place management consultancy Future Place Leadership, in collaboration with Berlin Partner, Bizkaia Talent, Brainport Eindhoven, Copenhagen Capacity, Move to Gothenburg, TalentScotland, Turku Business Region and Work in Estonia.

If you are inspired by our vision to share knowledge across borders and to collaborate rather than compete, please visit Future Place Leadership or connect with Morten King-Grubert for details on how to join.

This article is a contribution by Future Place Leadership, a TPBO Knowledge Partner on talent attraction. More about the company’s research and advisory services here.


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