How to attract talent and make sure it stays? The International Citizen Hub Lund (ICHL) is a leading talent attraction and retention initiative in southern Sweden. We caught up with Lisa Andersson to find out how her team supports the partners of international talent – an important aspect regarding a city’s or region’s ability to attract skilled individuals from overseas.
We also asked Lisa which challenges specialists from overseas and their families often face, and what ICHL does to help them overcome those.
Lisa, attracting international talent to Lund and making sure they stick around is the main focus of the International Citizen Hub Lund. Who started this initiative, and why?
It all started with the historic decision to build the materials research facility European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, agreed by the European Research Ministers in 2009. And at the same time construction on MAX IV would begin in 2010.
Imagine Lund with two world-class research facilities, both reliant on expertise from all parts of the world. These international experts mostly come with a partner and children who leave a comfortable life behind, facing the challenge to start a new one in a foreign country; not only foreign in language but culture, tradition and even legislation.
This situation is not easy for families to navigate, and most often results in an international recruitment that many times fails, costing companies not only economic loss but even growth.
The city of Lund was well aware that one key factor to attracting and retaining international talent to these facilities was to create a meeting place where the accompanying family could receive the support needed to get their bearings.
This is not unique to Sweden but a global issue which many countries face. The city of Lund was also aware that this decision would have a positive impact on international recruitments to both Lund University and companies in the area.
How does ICHL attract and retain talent?
We are convinced that information and networking is key when moving to a new country. That’s why we arrange around 120 events and activities per year – not only for our newcomers but also for companies.
We love events! It’s one of the best ways to provide information, as well as exposing our newcomers to a vast network of over 1,500 internationals and over 60 speakers in their areas of expertise.
We keep the number of participants per event to a max of 40, which offers a more intimate atmosphere to mingle with people before or after an event takes place.
Some of the most popular events we arrange are: “Introduction to the Swedish Job Market”, “How to Start Your Own Business” and “Mental well-being when moving to a new country” – and even “How to get a driver’s license in Sweden”.
Another appreciated service we provide is drop-in on Thursdays when either a newcomer or a spouse already connected to us are able to walk-in and receive support in finding answers to the many questions they have while establishing themselves in their new country. This takes place in a warm, friendly environment where we take the time to listen and understand the issues that need to be addressed in order to create events that have value.
We also have a frequently visited website and Facebook page where you can read and understand the support you get when you make the decision to relocate to southern Sweden. This has been a good tool for companies, universities and of course our research facilities.
What are the main challenges of keeping talent in Lund (and how do you tackle those)?
The biggest challenge, which is not limited to Lund but to Sweden in general, is getting accompanying partners into the job market. We are talking about a highly educated and experienced workforce that have left their careers behind and are ready to contribute to Sweden’s economic growth, but are invisible in Sweden.
It’s not easy to search for a job in Sweden without a network and not understanding the recruitment process in the new country. That’s why we started a Kick-Start Job program in 2016 for accompanying spouses, which we are very proud of and which is in great demand. This program is based on 10 sessions of learning to navigate the local labor market. Experts in their respective areas provide insight and tools, such as building a professional network, managing job interviews, or perhaps even starting a company.
Another challenge is integrating internationals into Swedish society. Initially, language is a barrier, thereafter culture comes into play. We strive to help this target group understand how it works in Sweden socially and professionally, and to encourage them to join the many leisure activities Sweden has to offer.
What are the benefits of actively attracting and retaining talent through a specialized organization like ICHL?
Companies, universities and mainly our research facilities ESS and MAX IV benefit greatly from being able to focus on business, research and specifically the international employee who has been recruited to the organization.
We keep our focus on the settling in process and the many factors it entails. In general, companies are not able to manage this on a daily basis, nor do they have the network or knowledge to address the issues for this target group.
The City of Lund as authority facilitates the collaboration with other authorities – let’s say we speak the same language and understand the framework we all work under. We have the flexibility to change and develop events that are most suitable for the target group. And, most importantly, we are able to connect people.
The worst thing that can happen is to move to a new country and be isolated.
Beyond finding fresh talent to meet the needs of businesses and research institutions in Lund, how does your work impact Lund’s economic development potential, and its brand strength as city and region?
The Kick-Start job program is one major contributing factor to our success, as the program also promotes starting new businesses.
Another advantage is that international companies interested in establishing a branch office or new business may feel reassured that international employees will be willing to relocate, knowing there is support for the individual.
We have over 50 nationalities registered at ICHL which means that Swedish companies have access to an international pool of know-how, from which they can take advantage. And if our internationals decide to move back, or on to another country, they become ambassadors who share their positive stories of living in Lund, as well as the region.
Talent attraction being such a “hot” topic nowadays for cities pressured to compete with others around the world, what are the trends currently influencing your work?
We see a clear trend of short-term employment contracts converting into permanent contracts, which affects the international’s living and schooling situation. This means housing becomes more limited due to the lack of rental properties available. Therefore, we created an event how to buy a property in order to address this problem.
International schools are having difficulties to offer a place to incoming students, as these schools are filling up quickly. Therefore, we need to look at how we can increase more places or what alternatives exist to deal with this issue.
Which cities would you consider good examples to follow, for their innovative and successful approaches to talent attraction and retention?
I haven’t had the opportunity to visit many cities who work specifically in this area, with the exception of Copenhagen, our neighbor. We’ve had a close collaboration with International House Copenhagen when we first started in 2015 and have kept this relationship active.
If we look at countries, you have Canada with many good examples throughout the country. And then Estonia that started with attraction and now has an International House to target talent retention along with Helsinki, Finland, which I hope to visit in the future.
And of course Eindhoven in the Netherlands. In principal, we look at other cities for inspiration but not necessarily follow their strategies, as we must focus on Lund’s own strengths as a driving force to succeed in the mission we have ahead of us.
Personally, I would like to see our concept used throughout Sweden, and the team is always open to sharing how we work, and to inspire others within the exciting field of talent attraction management.
Your thoughts on Sweden as destination for international talent? Why should we consider moving there?
Sweden is well known for its work-life balance, which is something more people are seeking nowadays: more time to pursue hobbies and spend time with the family.
We have a comprehensive healthcare system and free education, even at university level. Sweden is also recognized globally for break-through innovation such as Pacemaker, Bluetooth and Oat Milk, just to name a few.
And let’s not forget Sweden is a country where equality plays a major role within society and the workplace due to a strong anti-discrimination legislation.
Even though Sweden may not always have the most favorable weather, the beautiful landscapes are not to be missed. As the Swedes say, no bad weather only bad clothing.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
We’ve been focused on Lund, but I can’t go without mentioning that Region Skåne has taken great interest in the work we are doing and made a 3-year financial commitment to ICHL during 2018-2020. This commitment enables more internationals in the region to benefit from our services.
In 2017 we also began a close collaboration with the city of Malmö and their companies. This financial assistance and collaboration is instrumental in ICHL delivering quality service to the region, as we do today. Without it we wouldn’t be able to manage.
In order to accelerate even more, financing from other cities and collaborating partners would enable us to open more places in our Kick-Start Job program and to develop further services in other areas of interest than we are able to offer at this time.
Thank you, Lisa.
Thinking about moving to southern Sweden or Lund, or already there? Check out the website of International Citizen Hub Lund for info and assistance – or connect with the community via LinkedIn or Facebook.