Study “Cultivating talent: Exploring effective talent attraction and retention practices in and beyond the EU”

New study commissioned by the Migration Partnership Facility highlights the current challenges and opportunities regarding talent attraction and retention policies in the EU and beyond. Featuring examples of national strategies and practices from all over Europe, the research piece provides a comparative snapshot along with 10 action-driven recommendations.

The new study, “Cultivating talent: exploring effective talent attraction and retention practices in and beyond the EU”, authored by the ICMPD Policy Unit, includes a selection of national, regional and municipal case studies to highlight potential practices that appear to be promising to strengthen the EU’s and Member States’ efforts in this area. The study’s main findings and 10 recommendations can inspire policymakers, labour market agencies, economists and recruiters to adapt current schemes or devise new strategies. 


A war for talent? Looking beyond national borders to the global workforce

Managing the attraction of talent on national and regional levels has emerged as a crucial catalyst for fostering innovation and expansion in the EU. As businesses grapple with the challenge of sourcing and recruiting talent locally, they increasingly recognise the imperative to explore international avenues and tap into a global workforce.

Common features of global leaders in attracting talent

As outlined by the OECD (2023), none of the current leaders in talent attraction are part of the European Union. Instead, primarily English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have asserted themselves as frontrunners in the talent attraction landscape. Leaving aside the purely economic angle, other factors that propel these countries to the top are inclusive and family-friendly societies, a high standard of living, a strong skills environment, ease of procedures, and long-term prospects for potential migrants.

Common challenges persist across the EU area

Despite the differences in scope, capacity, and overall goals when it comes to talent attraction and retention across Europe, during the interviews the research team were able to compile a series of common challenges.

The authors gathered that a fundamental component in attracting and especially retaining talent was to provide an inclusive environment in which the international talent and his or her family could thrive. Contrary to this, xenophobic attitudes and heightened political sensitivities to the topic of migration create an environment where international talent, lacking political representation, feels unwelcome.

Language skills surface as a core challenge, and as mentioned above, those countries where English is either the native language or widely used by public administrations and local populations alike, stand out as easier entry points for integration into local life than states where sufficient knowledge of the local language is an indispensable requirement for everyday and professional life.

These social and cultural aspects are compounded by long processing times for work permits and legal complexities around visas, lack of awareness of labour law issues and non-digitalised immigration procedures. In turn, European companies, especially SMEs, feel ill-equipped to take on the mission of receiving talent from abroad despite a perceived appetite for new skills and expertise.

Pockets of innovation across EU member states, regions, and cities

In contrast to this negative outlook, several EU member states have adopted national talent attraction strategies: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, and the Netherlands have all adopted a wide range of measures to attract workforce from abroad and bolster their economic growth. Noteworthy examples include:

  • Denmark’s talent attraction strategy is exemplified through emblematic initiatives, such as the International House Copenhagen, which has become a role model across Europe, and which was a collaborative effort between the Danish Government, the City of Copenhagen, the University of Copenhagen, and private companies dedicated to attracting and retaining international talent.
  • Finland’s Talent Boost Program is a relevant example of a cooperative system, where cities, regions and local organisations collaborate while pursuing their specific goals and guidelines.

One highlight from the study is the focus on sub-national actors as competitors in the global race for talent. These actors are leveraging their resources to entice potential workers level, the study highlights interesting practices by regions such as Carinthia, Flanders and South Moravia alongside cities including Barcelona, Gothenburg, and Vilnius.

10 recommendations for attracting and retaining talent across the EU

The study suggests 10 avenues and action points to bolters the capacity of Europe as a whole and of individual Member States in attracting talent from abroad.

At EU level

  1. Support EU Member States in creating or further developing national strategies on international talent attraction and retention. Following the example of Estonia, Finland and the Netherlands, providing technical assistance to member states to refine or create tailored national strategies and provide funding for this topic.
  2. Bring in the Talent Partnerships: adopting a win-win approach, Talent Partnerships can set up joint double-degree programmes, develop joint curricula and foster investment in the countries of origin.
  3. Develop the Talent Pool: still in infancy, this new tool can be shaped to respond to impending needs in terms of talent attraction, including by simplifying the qualification and skills recognition procedures.
  4. Initiate a knowledge hub on legislation and policies for practitioners, municipalities, or regional entities to navigate the complex legal and administrative procedures necessary for talent attraction.
  5. Accelerate digital solutions for immigration and beyond: the European Digital Identity, which is currently being developed and tested in four large-scale projects, promises to provide solutions when accessing government services, opening a bank account, or travelling within the EU.

For national policymakers

  • Strengthen the exchange between policymaking and practice: practitioner-level exchanges have proven to be suitable for discussing challenges and operational details, and in this regard the EU Labour Migration Practitioners Network stands out as a prime mechanism for knowledge sharing.
  • Invest in social integration by embracing a comprehensive approach to onboarding that includes not just job-oriented assistance, but also social and cultural integration.
  • Engage more with international graduates to allow for job search after completion of study degrees and relax the income and sector requirements for greater flexibility.
  • Do not leave blue collar workers behind: international centres are marketed towards highly skilled workers, but this particular type of talent may need a different approach.
  • Cultivate multilingualism and bridge gaps with artificial intelligence (AI): With English increasingly becoming a lingua franca, European public administrations could accommodate the fulfilling of administrative requirements in this language. AI-driven translation and chat bots could support public administrations where English proficiency lags. For companies, using English as the language of communication opens doors for new international talent.


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