Momentum grows for global talent

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Norway’s fast-growing population of foreign and globally oriented residents are making their presence known and their voices heard, as they try to break into tightly knit Norwegian networks or form their own. The scores of them who packed a private Oslo home on Monday night proved the momentum they’re building, and they even managed to attract a top official from the important Ministry of Labour.

A global group packed a home in Oslo Monday night, to mingle, listen to speakers and discuss issues related to being "global" in the Norwegian capital. At left, Peter Nikell of General Motors, Gina Lund of the Labour Ministry and Kjersti Skotte of industrial firm ABB. Sitting on the floor, Amir Sasson of Norwegian Business School BI and corporate board professional Silvija Seres. PHOTO; Views and News

The event, held at a “secret” address made known to participants only days before the event, drew together a wide range of people motivated to make Norway more receptive to the international community that’s been growing for years but still has a hard time feeling accepted by Norwegian society. Those attending the combination seminar-network-party came from academic circles, the diplomatic corps and, not least, private business, and also included several trying to break into the business world and continue their careers in Norway. The challenges they face can be daunting, even for the most highly educated and confident among them, but the goal is clear.

“We want to help make Oslo go from a multi-cultural city to a cosmopolitan city,” said one of the event’s organizers, Jørn Lein-Mathisen, who also works as a consultant in Oslo and with efforts to form a consortium to attract global talent to Oslo.

Lein-Mathisen’s stated objective drew cheers and applause from the crowd that filled the large, stately old flat in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district. Those in attendance already consider Oslo multi-cultural, as many are from other countries and cultures themselves. Now the aim is to build on that multi-culturalism as a strength, not a problem, and get the word out to Norwegian companies that business benefits from hiring globally oriented workers from abroad as well as from Norway.

State Secretary Gina Lund from the Ministry of Labour was among the speakers, and insisted that the government "is working hard" to make Norway more open-minded and streamline immigration rules. In the foreground, second from left, Lisa Cooper from the US, who heads the Leadership Foundation in Norway and recognizes foreign talent with an awards ceremony every year. PHOTO: Views and News

There were, after all, many Norwegians in the crowd, too, several whom had both studied and/or worked abroad, and faced assimilation challenges upon returning to Norway. One woman spoke of how entire top management teams at many Norwegian firms are all persons, mostly men, who studied together at a Norwegian college or university and went on to do business together. It’s not easy for “outsiders” to break into their networks and offer the diversity they may not realize they need in today’s global business world.

The word “global” was bandied about repeatedly during the event. Anne Stavnes, US-born head of employer organization NHO’s Global Future project that aims to get more global talent into top management and company boards of directors in Norway, even passed out buttons reading “I am global!”  Kjersti Skotte, global mobility expert for industrial firm ABB, said her colleagues must “be global” and that global mobility creates value for companies.

Norway, it’s argued, needs to not only harvest the global talent already in the country but also to import it, given the current low unemployment levels and ongoing need for economic growth. Amir Sasson, an associate professor at Norwegian Business School BI from Israel, recently completed research suggesting that Norway needs to create value by marketing itself as a “knowledge-based place” and make itself more attractive to global labour talent. The research will be presented to top government officials later this week.

There was time for mingling and sampling the snacks table, too. All participants were asked to contribute food and drink. PHOTO: Views and News

“We’re losing money on promotion of our waterfalls and tourism,” Sasson argued, noting that Norway is and will continue to be a high-cost place for tourists, for retailing and manufacturing. “Instead of marketing Norway as a tourist place, we should market it as a knowledge place,” Sasson said. “Let’s use this moment, with crisis in Europe, to attract the best engineers from Spain, for example. There’s a huge opportunity.” He and others singled out alternative energy, cancer research and technology as areas where Norway could shine, and attract top talent, just as the Stavanger area has long attracted top talent to its high-tech offshore and energy industry.

Gina Lund, a politician from the Labour Party who serves as state secretary in Norway’s Ministry of Labour, seemed impressed by the turnout and the enthusiasm of those present at Monday’s gathering. She was also among a string of speakers who focused on workplace and professional issues of great concern in Oslo’s fledgling “cosmopolitan” community.

“Does Norway want global talent to work here? Yes!” Lund claimed. “We’re working hard on making this society an open-minded society. We want this to be a society where everyone can make it.” She also claimed that efforts are being made to streamline the bureaucratic hurdles tied to obtaining work and residence permission in Norway.

Breaking down barriers
The challenge is how to break down the business barriers, and Peter Nikell, managing director of General Motors/Opel in Norway, had some advice. “Manage your expectations, there are no red carpets,” said Nikell, who’s originally from Sweden and has moved around internationally. Silvija Seres, a Hungarian/Serb who had to break down barriers despite holding advanced degrees, now serves on several corporate boards in Norway and offered advice as well to job seekers with immigrant backgrounds:

“You need to tell (prospective Norwegian employers) that you are here to help them,” Seres claimed, not the other way around. She urged foreigners in Norway to seek out non-traditional headhunting firms and companies with an international orientation, and approach them from a position of strength, “that you can teach them something. Your brand is not that you’re a foreigner, but rather that you’re very strong in certain areas,” Seres added, stronger than a native-born Norwegian might be, because  of international and multi-cultural experience. “Don’t be a victim (of discrimination),” she advised. “You must use the opportunity to be different.”

‘Good business to go global’
Eventually, Seres believes, Norwegian employers will get the point, and understand why it’s “good business” for them to “go global.” And Norway can offer global talent a “great place” for them “to balance their careers with their lives.” Not many other countries, she noted, can match Norway’s social welfare system that helps professionals nurture both careers and families.

Meanwhile, people like Lein-Mathisen will continue to push for global talent and its acceptance in Norway, and they used the event Monday to formally launch the new Oslo International Club (external link). It aims to gather “international professionals” in the greater Oslo area “to contribute to a more cosmopolitan, tolerant and multi-cultural Oslo and Norway.” They hope government officials like Lund and, not least, top Norwegian business executives, will pay attention.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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