(This is my translation – from the original Danish – of an article written by Tonny Thorup, Business Manger at BusinessAalborg, a division of Aalborg Kommune. The article appeared in the Nordjyske on 13 January 2015. Click on the image to the right to enlarge it. There will be more information about the International House initiative in the months to come. Stay tuned!)
Aalborg and North Jutland are becoming more and more globalized, but as a city and region we need to be much better at embracing international companies, staff, and students. We will need more skilled labor and sharp international talent in the future so it is important that we both attract and retain the foreign workers that are needed to meet the demand of North Jutland companies. The alternative is to lose contracts and growth and thus jobs.
Companies in North Jutland export mainly to Germany, Sweden, Britain, and Norway and more and more of them are building their base of international customers. But it is also true that more and more companies in the North Jutland region have foreign owners. In Aalborg 7.6% of the population are employed foreign nationals. It is obviously a very varied picture, from the greengrocer on the corner to the German engineer at Siemens Wind Power to the doctor at Aalborg Hospital. However, the trend is clear – the number of international workers is increasing; in fact, the rate has increased over 20% in the last three to four years.
The number of foreign students has also exploded over the last year, especially at the University College of Northern Denmark and Aalborg University. Today there are nearly 3,000 foreign students at institutions of higher education in Aalborg.
So the big question is – are we doing anything about it? To ensure that the right foreigners come to Aalborg, that their spouses are integrated, and that they stay and create value in the companies? If the answer until now has been that we are not, then we are on the path to changing that. One of the initiatives in Aalborg’s new Business Plan for 2015-2018 (in Danish) is the establishment of an International House.
The International House will cover the entire North Jutland region and act as a kind of international “one-stop shop.” Here one will be able to take care of formalities related to living and working in North Jutland, as well as establish networks with others in the same situation. Indeed, there is already an expat network with over 400 people who participate in joint activities and try to figure out how strange North Jutland really works.
There will also be guidance for companies on how to get integrate international staff in the workplace and, in particular, how to help their spouses settle in. We are challenged by the fact that it is often difficult to find a circle of friends and build a social network if you do not have a job. We want to do better.
There is also a need for greater efforts to ensure jobs for spouses. The fact is that if a spouse, as well as family, do not thrive, then the company quickly loses their specialized staff member, and we are back where we started.
During 2015, we will work in close collaboration with interested companies, other municipalities in North Jutland, educational institutions, Danish Industry (Dansk Industri), and a number of other regional and international partners to create better services for both companies and employees. We expect these different services to be available under one roof – that of an International House – at year end.
As a city and region we need to make the leap to becoming more global. With the International House we can help make that jump.