Demystifying (mis)beliefs in talent attraction – A Series by Nicole van Haelst

Misconception #1: ‘Talent’ = student or top performer


Welcome to our 6 part series on common misconceptions in Talent Attraction Management. The summer has been perfect for some reflection. Even more so from a distance, working from a suburb in Kinshasa, Congo. It definitely has enriched my perspective, eg. on how the whole topic of talent attraction and place making feeds into deploying the socio-economic transitions towards a more equal, safe and sustainable future.  

I am a practitioner turned consultant in Business & Talent Attraction and Retention, like my friends at Future Place Leadership (FPL). We love our team motto to practice what we preach and go for world domination. And if you’d ask ‘Give or Take?’ we would definitely say ‘give’ as we strongly believe in sharing the good practices we come across. With Morten and I crossing over to other continents – North America and Africa respectively – we bring cases beyond the Nordics, Europe. Focus: be(coming) a great place. I’m am super curious about your experiences, so please do share your comments with me. Best, Nicole


Let’s begin.

The most persistent concept I battle with is the idea that ‘Talent’ is a synonym for ‘Student’ or ‘Excellent’. Add ‘international’ and people feel it is even more exclusive. The preconception: the Human Capital Agenda in general, international talent acquisition in particular, is elitist. It benefits mostly the happy few – expats, highly educated, multinationals and FDI’s – and doesn’t serve the broader workforce, local SME’s nor the entire population. The word “talent” doesn’t work with elitism. The technocratic term ‘human capital’ does not help either.

‘Attracting global talent’ and ‘labor market displacement’ increasingly show up in one conversation. The context is political, most of the times. Even today, with politics and media abundantly covering shortages on the local / national labor markets, the option of attracting internationals to close the gap is not always the popular one. Political interests diverge and the lobby for other priorities is strong. 

When I ‘Talk Talent’, I talk about the (wo)men we need as part of the (future) workforce to deliver the transitions we face regarding energy, security and an equal society. For me talent includes starters to end of career, pensionados even, white and blue collar, generalists and experts, locals and internationals with diverse cultural backgrounds, nationalities, sexes, religions, educational levels and professional experiences. 

However, we need to be highly aware that when we talk about (international) talent attraction & retention a large part of the ecosystem either hears or reads ‘Education – Labor market alignment’ and feels ‘they put expats first in assigning jobs that could be done by ‘our’ people’. 


Where do we start?

Providing insights on shortages on the labour market both in numbers and skills, who the target group of (international talent) is, why it’s done, what investments are required and how (much) international talent attraction contributes to society as a whole is sometimes overlooked. As instigators of Talent Attraction Management we are (co-)responsible to help gather this data and to show the added value of attracting internationals, for the transitions in/and of the economy, employment and welfare for all inhabitants as well as the employers that hire them.

Talent is an inclusive concept and broader than students and/or the highly educated. Talent includes blue collar, nurses, teachers etc. The perception that international talent (and business) eat part of ‘our’ cake instead of making the cake bigger for all is a strong one and needs active addressing in Talent Attraction Management. 


Read part 1 of the series here: ‘Talent = Student or Top Performer’

Read part 2 of the series here: ‘Employers are the demand side’

Read part 3 of the series here: ‘We know best why we are an attractive place’

Read part 4 of the series here: ‘Government & Talent Agenda: They shouldn’t, they couldn’t’

Read part 5 of the series here: ‘Hires is all that counts’

Read part 6 of the series here: ‘Place is less relevant’


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