Matnyttig: How to attract and retain foreign employees?

Published: 08 February 2024

Text: Anne-Marie Korseberg Stokke

Two-thirds of all Norwegian companies lack important expertise, according to NHO (Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise). To assert ourselves in the competition for the sharpest minds, it is time to sharpen our efforts, says Mari Strømsvåg from the Oslo Region Alliance.

"A simple step can give Norwegian businesses significant competitive advantages, more market shares, increased productivity, and a stronger bottom line: Hire foreign expertise!"

Mari Strømsvåg, Special Advisor for International Profiling and Talent Attraction, is passionately committed to helping Norwegian businesses realize the benefits of attracting and retaining well-qualified foreign talent. But it doesn't happen automatically, she believes. Attracting people from abroad may require changing tactics and looking at the recruitment process with fresh eyes.

Mari Strømsvåg works with international profiling and talent attraction in the Oslo region.

The International Talent Map survey from 2023 reveals that 49% of individuals choose to accept a job due to the country or city it is in, surpassing considerations like the job itself or career opportunities (43%).

Mari Strømsvåg poses a rhetorical question: "If location matters so much, why aren't we talking more about Oslo and Norway when attracting talent?"

She suggests that the first step for a company is to identify what is unique and attractive about the country, city, or location and communicate it clearly to candidates in job postings and throughout the recruitment process. For Norway in general, here are some highlights she recommends:

  • Political stability and security: Norway consistently ranks high in terms of trust in the government. Many Norwegians might take for granted how safe and secure the country is compared to many others.

  • Weather and nature: While Norwegians might dream of warmer climates during winter, for those who have never experienced four seasons, snow and cold can be attractive. Norway also boasts a unique closeness to nature, even in Oslo.

  • Proximity to Europe: Direct flights to and from Oslo make it easier for individuals to travel home for visits.

  • Welfare state: Norway offers benefits such as maternity care, 12 months of paid parental leave, affordable and accessible childcare, free education, and heavily subsidized healthcare – aspects not common in many countries outside the Nordic region.

  • Work life: Entitlements like sick pay and job security, which are often taken for granted in Nordic countries, are not universal elsewhere.

Facts: Matnyttig

"Matnyttig" is a series of lectures organized by Forskningsparken where experts in a field come to share their knowledge. The events are open to everyone. Mari Strømsvåg from Osloregionen was a guest in "Matnyttig" in January 2024.

Explore more events in our event calendar.

Our four seasons can be an attraction.

A good welcome

"Hiring people is costly, and, naturally, one wants a return on that investment. At the same time, it might feel particularly risky to hire foreign workers. In that case, it is even more important to welcome your new employee from abroad in a good way, to ensure they feel comfortable and get off to a good start," says Strømsvåg.

  • She has some advice on how to make the process of welcoming the new employee as smooth as possible:

  • Ensure they are prepared for the weather and temperature upon arrival. Minus 24 degrees at Gardermoen can be a shock.

  • Familiarize yourself with the registration process both before and after arrival. First UDI, then the Tax Administration, and then the Police ... or was it the other way around?

  • Clarify expectations regarding language – English or Norwegian? Norwegian language courses are a must regardless.

  • Take the time to explain a bit about the culture both inside and outside the workplace. What is the dress code at work? What is a Christmas party? When and where do we have lunch? What is a skiing day? It's also a good idea to facilitate opportunities for international employees to share aspects of their own culture.

  • Offer to help with finding a place to live. The rental market in Oslo can be tough. Perhaps someone at the workplace has an apartment for rent?

For utenlandske arbeidsstakere kan god barnehagedekning og foreldrepermisjon telle mer enn lønn.

Make Them Thrive and Stay

The right career opportunities and the chance to grow in the job are, of course, important for all highly educated candidates, but Strømsvåg wants to emphasize the importance of life outside of work:

"It may sound trivial, but make sure that all foreigners in your workplace have somewhere to be on May 17th. It can be a very lonely day for anyone who didn't grow up in Norway. Nothing is worse than seeing everyone attending a party you're not invited to," says Strømsvåg.

National Day is just one example of occasions where we Norwegians can be, perhaps unintentionally, exclusive. She also mentions cabin trips and when the clock strikes 4 p.m. on Friday and everyone disappears out the door.

"Feel free to organize social activities outside of working hours, but make sure it's for everyone, not just for 'the internationals.' Otherwise, you lose the opportunity for real integration."

Another important factor for thriving is if the partner or spouse gets a job. An employee with a partner who is unemployed stays for an average of 3 years, while those with a job stay for 10 years, according to Danish statistics.

"It's difficult to live in Oslo on only one income, but whether the partner and family are happy also has a lot to do with the employee's well-being," says Strømsvåg.

Make sure your international employees have plans for May 17th.

Initiatives and Measures

Although many responsibilities fall on the employer, there are also developments at the municipal and regional levels. Here are some initiatives and measures that Mari Strømsvåg wants to highlight:

  • Competence Track: A pilot project aiming to drastically reduce the processing time of the immigration process using the EU digital wallet. The project is a collaboration between the Oslo municipality, UDI, Skatteetaten, and the Police.

  • Regional Welcome Service: Physical locations where foreign workers can get help with everything from finding a family doctor to job searching. Such centres are already in place in several locations in Sweden, and efforts are underway to establish them in Norway.

  • Comprehensive information in English from the Oslo municipality: You can now read about the city's services such as waste sorting, emergency medical services, childcare, etc., in English, tailored for foreign residents.

  • Spouse Program: A program to help partners or spouses find jobs is currently being tested in Lillestrøm, Kongsberg, and Østfold.

  • Oslo Science City: An innovation district that facilitates collaboration across different sectors.

"It may sound trivial, but make sure that all foreigners at your workplace have a place to be on May 17th."

Mari Strømsvåg

Oslo Region Alliance

Oslo Region Alliance is a strategic collaboration consisting of 65 municipalities, including Oslo municipality. Oslo Region Alliance works towards making the entire capital region a sustainable and internationally competitive area.

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