How can Norway make talented foreign workers feel at home? Scores of players in the business world grappled with that question at Norway’s first Global Mobility Forum on Wednesday, and a call went out for a so-called “Global Talent Consortium” to attract talented foreign workers to Norway, and hang on to them.
The goal is for Norway to succeed in the international race to attract top talent to a still-vigorous economy that needs engineers and a long list of other specialists. “I think there’s still a feeling in some quarters that everyone really wants to live in Norway,” said Paul Chaffey, a former Member of Parliament who now runs employers’ association Abelia. “The business reality is a bit different.”
Even though Norway has often been ranked as the best country in the world in which to live, it has trouble attracting top talent and often fails to hang on to talented foreigners who move to Norway only to later leave. Lars-Kåre Legernes of the Oslo Chamber of Commerce said some expatriates leave after only half-a-year, often because their families had trouble feeling at home in Norway. Wednesday’s forum, Legernes said, was meant to discuss ways of recruiting foreign talent, speeding the integration process and finding answers to the question: “How do we make them happy and productive?”
Hallstein B. Bjercke of the Liberal Party (Venstre), making his first public speech since recently taking over as city commissioner (byråd) responsible for economic development and culture in Oslo, claimed the capital’s new government was eager to help make Oslo more attractive, and that he’d welcome forum initiatives. He may be about to be handed some.
Among them is formation of the Global Talent Consortium, similar to or even in partnership with one launched by Denmark’s top businesses last year. The Danish consortium, backed by such big firms at AP Møller and Lego, addresses basic issues of how to “improve the overall framework for their foreign employees” according to a consortium leader. That can include everything from expanding international schools, establishing both social and professional networks for foreign workers, even simply supporting local news in English so that foreign workers can keep up with local current events until they learn the local language. The overall aim is to create “a more welcoming atmosphere,” and the Danish leaders are “reaching out” to establish a Nordic consortium “to position ourselves as an attractive region.”
Jørn Lein-Mathisen, a consultant in Oslo who works with executive search firm Odgers Berndtson and Kulturtolk, was among the organizers of Wednesday’s forum at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo and he said they want something concrete to emerge from it. He urges forming a consortium “to help make Norway one of the best places to live and work.” Efforts should also be made, he and Odgers Berndtson partner Baard IL Storsveen believe, to export Norwegian leadership culture as “the management of the future.” Its flat structure and active communication with labour unions and the government are among features that could be branded and promoted overseas.
Norway still faces challenges in making foreign workers comfortable. The country is moving towards a more culturally diversified workforce, but immigration policies and cultural challenges present hindrances. “What do we do with our (foreign) highly educated students when they’ve completed their degrees?” queried Amir Sasson, an associate professor at BI. “We kick them out!”
Sasson, originally from Israel, said talented foreign students should instead be given incentives to stay in Norway to work. One way, he said, would be to excuse student loans if the student stayed at least five years in the country. He also urged Norwegian business leaders to provide accessible social networks for foreign talent. “Introduce them to your own high school network of friends, make them part of your network,” he said. Simple inclusion of foreign workers can go a long way towards making them feel welcome and stay.
Storsveen of Odgers Berndtson agreed. He conceded that if given a choice, Norwegian employers will still often prefer hiring a Norwegian instead of a more-qualified foreigner. “Why do we fear talent?” he asked. He also said that pressure to learn the Norwegian language, a lack of integration in the workplace, Norwegians’ traditional skepticism towards foreigners and a lack of social integration after work often play into talented foreign workers’ decisions to leave Norway.
Steve Wilkinson of Brookfield Global Relocation Services confirmed that Norway and other Nordic countries tend to be less popular among non-Nordic workers, but it was unclear why. “The dark nights? The high cost of living? The price of a beer?” Wilkinson asked rhetorically. He cited a frequent reluctance by foreign workers to uproot their families, even though Norway generally scores high on work-life balance and support for families.
One successful foreign executive working in Norway confirmed that Sweden tended to be more popular than Norway among his colleagues at Huawei Technologies Norway AS. The giant Chinese firm, which vice president Jie Zhang stressed was “independent and private,” has grown from one person in 2005 to more than 220 today and intends to continue expanding.
It’s been “particularly difficult in Norway because, yeah, the doors are normally closed,” Jie said, to laughter from the audience. He also faced a key cultural difference between the Norwegians and the Chinese: “In Norway, you need to do business before a relationship is formed,” he noted. “In China, you have to have a relationship before you do business.”
Huawei nonetheless managed to lure both Telenor and Netcom, among others, as customers and is now making an entry into the consumer market in Norway. “We’re a global company, willing and able to localize and adapt,” Jie said.
How could Norway be more helpful for a company like Huawei (roughly pronounced “how-why”)? “It’s very simple,” Jie said. “Look to your neighbours.” He repeated that many foreigners still feel “it’s easier to live in Sweden.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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