All hands on deck

As the Dutch economy recovers from the financial crisis, more hands and brains are needed to do the work. Skilled workers from abroad might bring relief, but only if they overcome the challenges of relocation. In the first of a three part series, PHILIP HOFMAN reports on how Holland attracts foreign labour and money.

While some employers may temporarily have the luxury of choice when recruiting new employees for certain jobs due to the economic crisis, labour market experts warn that an era of structural labour shortages is just around the corner. SEO Economisch Onderzoek, an independent economic research institute, recently published a weighty report titled ‘Bridging the gap’. The gap on the cover of the report points to the deficit of 35 million workers in the EU by 2050, as predicted by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office. The study shows The Netherlands is near the top of the European employment league table, with 77 percent of its citizens active in the work force. To meet the future demand for jobs, 89 percent of all Dutchmen would have to work, which the SEO report finds unrealistic. Underlining the urgency of the issue, is an expected deficit of 8,600 ICT workers in The Netherlands by 2015 – 16,000 in case of a more rapid economic recovery – according to the industry body for ICT companies in The Netherlands, ICT~Office.

Good value
Attracting skilled workers from other countries may be part of a range of measures to bolster the Dutch work force. The SEO report says immigration can reduce the 19 percent labour shortage expected in 2050 to 16 percent. The influx of skilled migrants has only just started. In 2004 the government relaxed immigration rules for so called ‘knowledge workers’. By 2008, some 13,000 had arrived under the new regime. Rob van Elburg, owner of RAVE-cruitment, an ICT recruitment firm, has made international recruitment for Dutch companies his specialty, sourcing workers mainly from Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey and Morocco, but steering clear of India and China. ‘We purposely look for people a bit closer to home’, Van Elburg says. ‘We find that they are more likely to want to stay and build a life here, instead of earning some money and going home.’ He says he offers his clients, well known Dutch companies such as ING, Wehkamp and Schiphol Airport, excellent value for money. ‘Russian ICT-specialists for instance, leave university at age 22. When they arrive here as 26 year-olds, they have a good education plus four years of work experience under their belts. With a typical first salary of 36,000 Euros, the price/quality ratio for employers is very good.’

30-year-old Tolga Ayas is one such skilled worker, who came over from Istanbul, Turkey, two years ago. He now works as a network security engineer for Intrum Justitia, a Swedish credit management company which has based its European data centre in Amsterdam. “I had a good job in Istanbul,” says Tolga. “But after seven years of working for Siemens and some time with a large bank, I was looking for a new challenge. I wanted to add to my experience and develop myself. I could not do that in Turkey, so I looked for opportunities in other countries.” Britain, Ireland and the United States featured high on Tolga’s list before coming here, but when he spotted an opportunity in Amsterdam his initial fears about not speaking Dutch were eased swiftly. “I spoke to some friends who were doing work experience projects here. They told me I could get by with English.” Settling in The Netherlands was not the headache Tolga had feared. “The recruitment agency helped me a lot with housing and the legal process. And because I was already working in international companies before in Turkey, I did not find any big differences in working habits here. The things I had to get used to most were the food and the weather.” If anything, Amsterdam seems somewhat of a wind down for Tolga. “Istanbul is a big city. The stress level is higher there. It took me two hours to travel to work. Here I have more time for myself in the evenings.”

Ana Agorreta came to Holland in early 2009 with her Nigerian husband and their two children. She works as a Senior Oracle Database Administrator for internet provider Online. “I had already been here a few times on business trips, and had fallen in love with the country,” says Ana. “I was looking for a new work challenge, but in Spain we had also experienced some racism-related problems. I want a better future for my kids. So this was not just a career move, it was really a family move as well.” Ana’s husband studies international law, a course taught in English. About 40 percent of Ana’s direct colleagues are internationals like herself. After a year-and-a-half of living and working here Ana admits she has yet to learn to speak Dutch. She has made hardly any Dutch friends. The past 18 months have given her the opportunity to put her rose-tinted view of The Netherlands to the test. “I still find The Netherlands open-minded, tolerant and respectful. On the other hand, I expected Holland to be better organised than Spain. This is not always the case. It has actually shocked me for a while! In business things can change quite quickly. Today we follow plan A, tomorrow it’s B. They closed the metro for weeks, then you find out there is no actual work going on! But overall, I am happy here.”