It’s almost unbelievable: all the high tech companies in the Brainport region are constantly looking for talents and yet there is an existing untapped talent pool of over 9,000 highly-skilled international workers. What if the key of transforming this problem into an asset lies in overcoming our own mind gap? What if companies and people can unite and bring about a crucial change in these international spouses’ lives?

In an interview with E52 Kavitha Varathan – one of the founders of Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI), explained the reasons for the current talent gap and provided solutions to the problem entailed in projects and initiatives ESI is working on.

Problem

The main problem with the spouses of the internationals who come in Eindhoven because their partners have found a job here is that although they are highly educated they cannot find a job. “The root of the problem is that it is not fair to hire one person and leave out the other person and it is especially not fair when the present day society is so international”, stated Varathan.  She believes that there are several reasons for this spouses’ conundrum.

Reasons

First, according to her the environment is not ready. What she means with this is that companies want talent but they do not know where to look for it. There are talents in these international families who are unfortunately compelled to stay at home because they need a professional system where they can operate as equal professional players. Companies are still not ready to look at internationals as professional segments, Varathan elaborated.

Second, Varathan also pointed out that spouses do not feel ready to start working after they have moved here. Usually what happens with the spouses is that they need at least six months to settle in the new city and environment, to find schools for their kids, to try to build a network. Thus, they do not think about their professional development, “they do not think that they are making a professional decision by moving here but that they are just following their partners”, she added.

Third, in Varathan’s view a main obstacle for the professional development of these highly educated spouses is that the majority of the opportunities are not open to internationals since they are in Dutch.

“The main reason for the big number of international talents awaiting unemployed is the mind gap.”

As a main reason for the big number of international talents awaiting unemployed, though, Varathan indicated the ‘mind gap’. She believes that everyone – companies and the community itself – should first open their mind and “then 90% of the problem is solved.” She furthered that the spouses, too, need to open their mind and understand that they need to integrate in the Dutch/Eindhoven society.

Lat but not least, Varathan mentioned one more reason as to why all these international spouses tend to feel left out from the society. Eindhoven is a highly international city with 30% of its population being internationals. However, the local internationals tend to separate themselves from the flow of internationals moving in and out of the city. Varathan believes that instead of separation mutual integration should be aimed at. On the one hand, locals should merge with the internationals, while on the other hand, internationals should realize that they have to integrate with the “locals” and at some point learn their language.

Solutions

Apart from enumerating the various reasons for the gap of unemployed but highly educated international spouses, Varathan also provided solutions to the problem. One major key to the problem, according to her, is involving small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the process. This is also what ESI is presently working on. Their project “SMEs, Go International” sees the gap between the jobless spouses and the companies looking for talent as an asset and not as a problem. “Since 70% of all jobs are created by SMEs, they drive the economy, so it makes so much more sense to plug internationals with these SMEs”, Varathan accentuated.

Kavitha_VarathanTherefore, SMEs can help internationals while at the same time energize the labour market: “If 70% of the business is open to hiring internationals, this will definitely boost the economy in the long term because there are lots of internationals and Eindhoven is the perfect region for this.” Varathan and her team are already working on the project but they still need funding and partners in order to launch the campaign.

Still, big and corporate companies can also provide a solution to the problem. Varathan believes that “large companies should facilitate their internal recruitment process so it is more internationally friendly – for example, when they hire an international they should make sure their spouse can also find a job at the company.” Real results will be achieved when more and more companies state they are spouse friendly, “this will put pressure on other companies.”

“The solution lies in not making more things English but by facilitating people to learn Dutch.”

Lastly, Varathan highlighted that resolving the problem also depends on the international spouses themselves. She quoted Ed Heerschap – the coordinator of the programme for internationals “Living In”, who keeps reiterating that in order for the city to attract internationals it has to be English friendly but in order for it to retain them, these internationals have to learn Dutch. The solution lies in not making more things English but by facilitating people to learn Dutch and this is how they will not feel left out.

“It is up to you to come out of the bubble and find your opportunity.”

Internationals should strive to be more proactive: “It is up to you to come out of the bubble and find your opportunity”, Varathan concluded. Thus, there should be a mutual effort between the companies and the spouses in order for the gap to be overcome.

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