Ed Heerschap (Holland Expat Center South) and Kavitha Varathan (Expat Spouses Initiative)
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Thanks to Philips, the Dutch city of Eindhoven has traditionally been home to many international employees. Corona or no corona, the need for international tech talent remains. And so the municipality and the companies in the Brainport region are doing their utmost to welcome and retain new foreign employees.

This includes initiatives to improve the living conditions in the region, such as the Living-In Program of Holland Expat Center South. It promotes the integration of employees and their families by, for example, matching their accompanying partners to a potential employer.

At the Including You event last week, organized by Expat Spouses InitiativeHolland Expat Center South and Brainport Development, speakers from various organizations and companies told about their efforts and experiences with diversity and inclusion. This time the event took place in connection with corona online.

Eindhoven’s deputy mayor Monique List talked about the historical importance of international employees and related experiences with inclusivity in Eindhoven. “Due to the presence of Philips as a major employer, the city has a long tradition with employees from all over the world coming to live and work here. So inclusiveness is just in our DNA.”

All nationalities

It is only logical to encourage the arrival of international employees. Society is increasingly digitizing. The Netherlands itself does not have enough highly educated tech talent to fill open vacancies. So companies like Fluke and ASML are forced to look beyond their national borders in their search for suitable personnel.

Even now, large international tech companies in the Brainport region have employees from all over the world. For example, Fluke, part of the Fortive Corporation with offices ‘all over the world,’ has, according to Paul Feenstra, Vice President and CEO of Fluke EMEA, all kinds of nationalities on board among its 400 employees in the region. The same applies to his company, says Peter Baillière, Executive Vice President HR & O at ASML, with more than 110 different nationalities at the company in the Netherlands alone.

Accompanying partner

But “happy wives make happy lives,” goes the saying, Baillière maintains. “Although, of course, you can also replace ‘wives’ with husbands these days,” Feenstra hastens to add. Be that as it may, if the spouse or family of the foreign worker is not happy in the new environment, the stay is usually short and all the investment has been for nothing. For such a stay to be successful, all sorts of conditions must be met, such as a suitable job for the accompanying partner.

This is what the Holland Expat Center South and the Expat Spouses Initiative are doing. This includes initiatives such as the three-month Women for Women program, which concludes with the Including You event. With the help of local mentors, so-called ‘ambassadors,’ accompanying spouses are linked to the local ecosystem of employers such as ASML and Fluke, as well as to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Language barrier

What does the municipality itself do as a potential employer in this area, it is then asked. “Less than we would actually like,” List candidly admits. “However, this is mainly due to the language problem. In order to function well at the town hall, a good command of Dutch is required: after all, you have to be able to help local residents with things like applying for a passport and housing issues.”

On the other hand, a command of English is sufficient to function at most large international companies. Indeed, because of the international context, the working language is usually English. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. People sometimes complain that you don’t hear any Dutch at all at Brainport Campus. This does not really help integration, of course. According to Baillière, this is why ASML offers all new employees the opportunity to take a free Dutch course.

Social integration

In addition to employment for the accompanying partner, social integration is at least as important a condition for a successful stay of international employees and their families. If the children are not happy there, this will also influence the parents’ decision to stay or to leave.

That is why, in addition to idealistic motives, companies like ASML and Fluke want to do more in the future to promote the social integration of their employees and their families, including affiliation with local communities.

The municipality of Eindhoven, for its part, provides international knowledge workers and their families with a “warm welcome” in addition to housing, List says. “For example, we organize all kinds of cultural activities. We also provide communication in various languages. We also invest, in addition to international schools, in so-called ‘international streams’ within regular primary and secondary schools. This is to ensure that children can learn Dutch better and integrate into Dutch society. This also applies to sports clubs and other social activities: These are important things to make you feel at home.”

Corona as an opportunity

The corona pandemic has made it difficult for everyone to maintain social contacts over the past year. This was especially true for foreign workers without their trusted social networks nearby. The Holland Expat Center South and the Expat Spouses Initiative did their best to compensate by organizing all kinds of online events, such as ‘Including You.’
According to Baillière, the lack of physical meetings by corona “often makes employees feel ‘alienated’ from their surroundings. Working remotely has detrimental effects on their social interaction. In addition, it has a negative effect on their life-work balance.”

“Although the initial expectation was that remote working would cause employees to be less productive, it has actually caused people to work even harder,” is also Feenstra’s experience. Yet he also sees bright spots. “Working remotely has also unleashed an enormous amount of creativity and provided new tools that make it easier to engage in international collaboration at all levels.”

Read also: Retaining foreign talent also means looking after their partners