Toolkit on talent retention: going from theory to practice

One Baltic Sea region (ONE BSR) brings parties together promoting the region, with City of Helsinki as lead partner in the efforts. The Swedish Institute has been responsible for the project’s work packages dealing with talent retention issues. The aim is to brand the Baltic Sea region as an attractive area for international students and skilled professionals and to present a toolkit on working with talent retention.

ONE BSR has been a two-year project (terminated in 2014) funded by EU with objectives to develop partnerships in order to market the region, encourage positive publicity and the feeling of common identity in the Baltic Sea region.

Aging population and low birth rates in Europe creates talent shortages, a situation likely to become worse. The final talent retention work package focuses on assessing the situation in the region and providing tools that will make it easier for ministries, cities, universities and businesses in the region to work on talent retention issues together.

In cooperation with Tendensor, a strategy consulting company, Swedish Institute produced a situation analysis concerning how countries in the Baltic Sea region work with international talents in the region. This was followed by a toolkit on talent retention. The situation analysis revealed that all countries in the Baltic Sea region face talent shortages, yet, few actors have implemented concrete measures in order to retain talents. Thus the purpose of the toolkit to inspire regional and local public sectors to work with promoting the region and welcoming, receiving and integrating talent from abroad.

Providing the background for the work, the toolkit emphasises that active measures need to be taken if the Baltic Sea region is to become more competitive internationally. The focus is on the tools that can be used hands-on, describing their purpose, when it is best to use them and who should be doing what. The toolkit contains a strategic roadmap, which helps plan and implement the approaches identified. The most important idea behind the roadmap is that most activities should be a collaborative effort, bringing together regional governments, businesses, universities and NGO’s. It is important to note that the tools described are not a substitute for long-term measures that aim to increase the quality of life in the region and make it more attractive to talents in general.

How can we make it easier for talents to come to the region and make sure they have a good experience? The toolkit also provides examples of best practices from the region. When it comes to the official paperwork and a short introduction to the new country, we can create a one-stop-shop such as International House Copenhagen that opened in 2013. In Stockholm, Global Expat Centre offers help with social networking, spousal support, language courses and job hunting. Finland is implementing mentoring programmes for its international students, focusing on entrepreneurship and bringing students and potential employers together. It also important to realise that talent retention is part of “talent attraction management”, meaning that we need to think about talent attraction, reception, integration and reputation. International talents that have had a positive experience in their new country will become ambassadors for the region if and when they decide to leave.

The toolkit can be downloaded here.

During the final ONE BSR conference, Hannele Eklund from City of Helsinki and Marcus Andersson from Tendensor gave their views on working with talent retention in the region and the toolkit.

Holistic approaches and imagination are important

  • We need to find more ways to create integration and make people feel at home in our region. I think that colleagues at a workplace should in general be made more aware of this, because this is something that they can help a lot with, Hannele Eklund says.
  • The important thing when working with talent retention is to have imagination and put yourself into talents’ place. What would I need when I go to another country? You have to think of practical things, such as opening a bank account, getting a bus card, knowing what number to call when the fuses blow at home… One of the biggest challenges is accessibility to basic information, which City of Helsinki has been working a lot on. All BSR countries struggle with these issues, and we need to learn from each other. It is very important to listen to colleagues and friends in other countries and learn from good and bad experiences, Hannele Eklund says.
  • I think that cities and regions will have a more holistic and structured approach to talent retention in the future. I hope that the publication of the toolkit will result in more people working with these issues, even if they use other approaches, Marcus Andersson says.

It will not be an easy journey

  • There are challenges to implementation of the toolkit. It is not very difficult to start working with a specific tool, but it is much harder to think of it in a strategic context. Creating a holistic approach is like a journey and it is not easy. But we included a strategic roadmap in the toolkit, which can be used as a checklist when working with talent retention. Hopefully the roadmap can help provide a strategic framework to the work, Marcus Andersson says.
  • The toolkit gives platform for further thinking and it is really well put together. Examples of best practices will be very important for further work. I think a good approach is to go back to the toolkit regularly, follow up and get new perspectives. Another important thing is to monitor how the toolkit has been used in the region, how it has helped and how we can improve it, Hannele Eklund says.

Where do we go from here?

  • The toolkit is also a very important tool in marketing the region to talents. It shows that there are people in the whole region with similar thinking and similar attitude, Hannele Eklund says.
  • I think that ONE BSR has come far in many ways, achieving good results that other stakeholders in the region can start working with immediately. The risk that I see is that the results may end up in the drawer. So it is very important to secure new funding and continue the work, Marcus Andersson concludes.

For more information on the toolkit and ONE BSR, please contact:
Camilla Wristel, programme manager