Talent Attraction & Retention: Why, how, what (not) now?

In this report, we share insights on the ICP Webinar that was held on April 17th. Together with experts from Europe’s leading cities, we proved that the response to these times is not to retreat completely, but rather to come together in order to share best practices and make each other’s cities stronger. Sharing insights and lessons learned in an informal and trusted environment is at the core of the ICP mission. 

Why now?

Today, investments and funding are redirected to secure public health and all related. And the focus in our field is on retention, trying to keep people in their jobs and to avoid unemployment as much as possible.  

Talent attraction & retention should not be pushed to the back too much though. High numbers of talent are needed even NOW – eg in healthcare, logistics, horticulture, sales and support services – that cannot be met with locals only, either in numbers nor in required skill sets. 

Onboarding takes up to 6-9 months, so we better start attracting. Similar timelines apply to attract international students. We need them to address the talent gaps in our regional labor market.

What can cities, regions, and countries do to support international talent attraction and talent retention in these COVID-19 times? 

Three pointers for short-term issues that need to be addressed, from Morten King-Grubert:

  1. Make sure public crisis information is available in not only the local language but also English.
  2. Many governments launch support packages such as short-term layoffs – but how do these affect those who are in a country on a work visa that is tied to employment?
  3. Isolation is difficult for everyone, but imagine being isolated in a foreign country with fewer friends and a limited network. How can we help international talent feel less isolated? 

As for the long-term: Make sure you have a plan for the post-Corona times because the best and brightest will be needed to rebuild the economy.  

How & Who now?

This period enables us to go inward, to even better understand the talent journey, the assessment of the quality thereof and define actions to improve. Barcelona, Helsinki and Gothenburg shared inspiring testimonials of talent-central designs and applying the principle of ‘Internationals attract internationals’.

Let’s take on the challenge that Morten posed and evaluate our city brand: are we really differentiating enough? What does it actually say about the attractive career paths we have on offer? Now is the time for public and private partners to align individual interests into a common and shared global talent strategy. Empower the orchestrator of the global talent program to get the most out of all players: employers, policymakers, universities and service providers. 

Talent Observatory: research 

This period also offers an opportunity to address the clear misconceptions that cause mismatches in the regional labor market … eg. in the field of data science and AI. The research by ICP and AI Lab One shows that talent tends to underestimate their skill set (they falsely assume they fall short of expectations … and don’t apply) whilst the current hiring processes reject qualified candidates due to the lack of commonly accepted definitions on levels of experience, education and skill set in this field.

To help employers find the specific skills they are looking for, we need to initiate a bridge function that leverages talent available into customized matches for our regional SME’s and bigger brands. Think of an AI / Data science Academy aiming to upskill and reskill professionals – starters, mid-career level, and experts – to match the company-specific requirements.

The Hague Careers – talent pool

The Hague Careers has proven that virtual talent attraction works. A great asset feeding into the Future of Remote Work! The project succeeded in attracting over 750 data science professionals to The Hague using conversational technology and smart campaigns via social media. Currently, there are too many qualified candidates that are eager to pick up an assignment in one of our companies, that remain untouched. Untapped potential for the region …

COVID-19 and travel bans frustrate hiring, understandably. On the other hand, brains and creativity are required to drive innovation and will be needed to get us back in business in postcoronean times. International talent can provide for that if, and only if, we succeed in a soft landing for them and create (more) enabling regulations for employers in question. Things to do, today. 

The hardest part of Talent Attraction Management – even before the pandemic – is getting the employers on board to hire internationals (‘the blue side’ in the Talent Attraction model).

The sense of urgency amongst innovative SMEs is high, as the data shows, the means are there… However, the current system doesn’t succeed in reaching them.

Let’s use this time to innovate acquisition- and account management, introducing the talent proposition into the world of foreign direct investment. Let’s explore alternative channels and networks to get in contact with the right people in these companies and organizations that are desperately seeking talent. Let’s engage in storytelling about the power of diverse teams and lobby for lowering barriers to facilitate international hires. But please, never waste a great talent pool…

Are you in need of an AI professional or qualified and skilled candidates in data science? If you are interested in getting access to this exclusive and curated talent pool, please email Nicole directly at nicole@vanhaelst.com.

Sharing is caring: talent circulation

We are responsible – together – to provide the help we can in sourcing sectors in need. Our expertise regarding talent mobility can be used to move talent from one sector to another, one city to another or from one country to another. If we have attracted more talent than we (now) need, embrace talent circulation. The European labor market will be best served by European cities and regions collaborating in attracting and retaining international talent. It is a net gain, for all stakeholders including talented professionals and their families. 

In summary: Attributes of a successful talent hub:

  • Know the market needs: most wanted profiles?
  • Apply a talent central design.
  • Adopt a data- and technology-driven approach.
  • Focus on the accessible, high quality of life and career assets.
  • Establish clear ownership.

Thank you!

We absolutely must give a huge thank you to our speakers. Their wisdom has been shared throughout this report and we are grateful for the time they took to speak with us in the webinar. 

Thank you to Morten King-Grubert of Future Place LeadershipGeert Jan Waasdorp of Intelligence Group, Jackie van Marle of The Hague University, Mateu Hernández of Barcelona Global, Nisha Yadav of Helsinki Business Club, Niklas Delersjo of Move to Gothenburg, Bobby Bahov of AI Lab One, and Dylan Zuccherino of ICP.  Special thanks to the Municipality of The Hague for their great cooperation.


We are proud to announce that our ‘Places Attract Talent’ podcast has officially been released. The ICP podcast addresses topics in international talent attraction and retention during this COVID-19 era and beyond.

Three episodes to start with: Why? How? And What? 

As stated in the beginning, sharing insights and lessons learned in an informal and trusted environment is at the core of the ICP mission. This podcast series represents the cumulation and embodiment of our mission. We created a compact, digestible and fun way to understand the business case for Talent Attraction and Retention while also providing lessons that are actionable.

ICP and Future Place Leadership are joining forces in the further development of this series in 2020 and beyond. We are taking the lessons we have been discussing and putting them into action. This partnership is our signal that we all benefit when we collaborate.

Make sure to comment your thoughts and raise any questions you would love to have answered in future episodes!