The key to attracting and keeping international talent

Talent issues have become a main concern for many companies. The discussion on talent scarcity in the Nordic region is growing and has grown into a problem that is addressed on macro scale. Nations and cities have taken this into their development agenda.

Companies face challenges to attract and retain talent

Our customer research indicated clear challenges that recruiters face when working on attracting talent. Candidates often have prejudice when it comes to the expensive cost of living, high taxes, bad weather. Thus, recruiters spend a large part of the recruitment process on breaking the commonly known stereotypes of working in the Nordic countries and on branding the Nordic countries.

As a relocation service partner, we are closely involved in our customers’ induction processes. In order to retain talent, we have noted a trend in employing new talent on local basis (rather than expatriate or other short-term assignment options). As companies tend to employ on long-term and permanent basis, they are investing more into their employees' integration. Another key to talent reception and integration is noted in the demand for family support services.


Nordic countries and cities rank high on global talent competitiveness

The Global Cities Talent Competitiveness Index (GCTCI) was just published this year. It is a comprehensive report ranking countries as well as cities on their ability to enable, attract, grow and retain talent. The index includes also vocational and technical skills as well as global knowledge skills. In fact, Finland ranks 6th and Helsinki 7th. Overall, the Nordic countries rank in the top 10 and the Nordic capitals – in the top 15.

2019 GCTCI ranking for countries

2019 GCTCI ranking for cities

Finland's strengths and development areas

Anu Henriksson, Researcher at City of Helsinki, analyzed the results of the index further and made a comparison between the Nordic countries and cities. The article concludes that there are no major differences between the Nordic capitals. Stockholm and Copenhagen succeed better to enable talent and Oslo – in growing talent.

According to the index, Helsinki’s strengths are seen in retaining talent (safety and cost of living being cited as main issues) as well as relatively smooth registration process. Compared to the other Nordic capitals, Helsinki city needs to develop in attracting talent (GDP per capita and living standard) and work on its social media visibility.

On country level, Finland ranks sixth and its strengths are talent growth as well as vocational and technical skills. Finland’s success factors are vocational training, good education system, sharing responsibilities within the companies, civil rights and cooperation between companies. Other strengths are regulatory landscape, internal openness (and especially social mobility and women's access to leadership positions) as well as social sustainability.

Amongst the development aspects, Finland ranks lower in global visibility. This can be seen in the number of foreign students and foreigners overall, the leak of talent abroad as well as the lack of major foreign investments. Poor functioning of the labor market is stated to be another are that needs development. Unemployment rates and challenges in hiring employees are the main indicators for this. According to data from the Finnish statistical office, the unemployment rate of foreign jobseekers is 23.7%. The unemployment rate for the Finnish economy as a whole was 6.2% at the end of June. In other words, the percentage of unemployed immigrants is four times that of the total population.


Steps to improvement

Regardless of the excellent rankings, many companies still state that attracting talent requires hard work, resources and time. However, they are still willing to put in the effort for finding the right skillset.

Locating and attracting the right talent, though, is just half of the work. Getting the best return on this investment requires that the excellent skill-set remains in-house long enough to contribute to the overall success. As Nordic recruiters compete for talent with popular destinations in central Europe or the United States, they need more tools to sell the Nordic lifestyle. How to grow and retain talent?

The Government of Finland launched the Talent Boost programme in response to the talent shortage in Finland. As part of the programme the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and Business Finland published “Talent Boost Cookbook Finland” in April 2019. The book bases its methodology on the Talent Attraction Management model, which is an integrated approach that sees talent attraction and retention as the management of four interrelated types of activities:

  • Talent Attraction – marketing and recruitment activitiesTalent Attraction Management model
  • Talent Reception – welcoming and ‘soft landing’ activities
  • Talent Integration – activities aimed at helping talent to settle in and prosper in the longer term, e.g. networks for professional and social integration
  • Talent Reputation – place branding and employer branding efforts and ambassador network models

Management of the talent ecosystem
– the glue that keeps the regional work to attract and retain talent together.


The book contains an extensive list of different stage initiatives to develop each one of the activity types. We selected a few excellent examples for attracting, receiving and retaining talent:

Talent Attraction in Tampere

Talent Attraction focused on two campaigns to attract gaming talent from Russia and imaging professionals from Turkey. The campaigns yielded good results thanks to an close cooperation with private companies in the respective fields and thus managing to target the exact talent in the right countries.

Talent Reception - International House Helsinki

This is a one-stop shop or an international house for Talent Reception (and Integration). Similar ones are available in in Copenhagen, Helsinki and Tallinn and are considered to be a sign of a matured and advanced talent ecosystem. The Talent Boost Cookbook cites the International House Copenhagen as probably the example in Europe of how international talent can be provided service, instead of bureaucracy. That is the point of Talent Reception: Making life easier for the much wanted international highly skilled talents, as well as optimizing public money and making processes more streamlined. International House Helsinki (IHH) has done an amazing job in developing its service within the existing legal framework in Finland. Our relocation team is a regular customer, thus follows and co-operates closely in the provided service and customer experience.

Talent Retention – Hidden Gems programme, Tampere

80% of expats move abroad with their families (Source: Brookfield Global Relocation Services, 2015). Inability of spouses to integrate is cited as a major reason for inability to retain international talent. The programme Hidden Gems is an initiative of the Tampere University and is designed for the spouses of researchers in Tampere as a first step. It provides language courses, networking, career coaching and preparing for career development in Finland. There is a plan to scale this to spouses of international talent working at Tampere based companies, too. The target group involves highly skilled immigrants or Finnish returnees with international experience and expertise as well as networks that can generate added value for Finnish business and industry.

The way we see a sustainable relocation partner is being able to contribute and support its clients into all stages of the talent management ecosystem. Read more about the services we offer here.


We organized the Nordic Talent Shortage event 11.12. to ensure your company has the skills and workforce it needs in the future.