Álvaro Cárcel, Executive Search director.
In the last 6 months, I have had the opportunity to attend 2 different events, in which the same theme has been addressed from different perspectives: What are the keys for a city to become an attractive destination for talent?
Both events took the city of Barcelona as a reference, but the reflections are really valid and applicable to any city.
Before listing the main keys, in my opinion, there are four reflections that I consider interesting:
• A city is not a product. A city is a living place, where things happen and constant human interactions take place. Therefore, when we talk about a city, we cannot be tempted to think of product marketing.
• “Talent is the new oil”, or in other words: currently, the existence of an ecosystem of talent in a city attracts investment (and not vice versa). Talent is also one of the few competitive advantages of a city that cannot be replicated in others.
• We usually talk about talent as something generic. But is not. Talent are highly qualified people in their respective disciplines, who provide added value in their organizations, who can move well in international environments, and who constantly pursue their best version.
• Talent is a scarce commodity, and it is no longer just companies that compete for it. There is fierce competition between the cities of the world.
Now, it is time to answer the key question: What should happen, or what should a city offer to be attractive and have the ability to attract talent?
1) A close collaboration between the public sector and the private sector. Absolutely essential. There must be harmony between the two. If both sectors constantly pursue different objectives, or coexist in a permanent state of confrontation and mistrust, it is practically impossible for the city to position itself as a benchmark destination.
2) Competitive taxation. Impossible to forget this point. We live in a competitive and globalized environment. People and companies make economic decisions. If a city wants to position itself well in such an environment, it must offer a competitive advantage, and watch what happens in the neighbor's house.
3) Efficient administration. It is another essential aspect. We already live in a digitized environment or in the process of accelerated digitization. Speed is a competitive advantage. Interacting efficiently with the administration, quickly obtaining the legally required shift permit, being able to set up a company in a matter of hours, or for a foreign worker to obtain the necessary documentation to formalize a contract when all the requirements are in order should be today, a matter of minutes (or few hours/days). Unfortunately this is not the case in many cases.
4) Have a clear vision and a city project. The lack of a project leads to improvisation, and improvisation leads to missed opportunities. For example, today is the perfect time to position itself as a benchmark city in terms of technology, sustainability, the circular economy or the fight against climate change. But the objectives can also be others. The important thing is to be clear about what we are and where we want to go as a city.
5) Stability and legal certainty. Linked to the previous point, it is essential that there is a stable framework regardless of the political color and the government in power. In a changing environment, it is necessary to evolve and adapt to changes, but from serenity and with predictable regulations.
6) A quality training ecosystem. The existence of educational institutions (public and private) are the main source of talent. It is important to have a long-term view in this regard, and to think long-term, in order to train the professionals of the future in the present. And an important issue: that the local population has a good command of languages (mainly English). Sometimes this aspect is not given enough importance, and it is really important when it comes to competing with other international cities. With will, it is easily remedied, and it is difficult to understand the systemic deficit in some countries/cities.
7) Promotion of diversity and openness. Taking the city of Barcelona as a reference, 179 nationalities coexist there. 23% of the population is foreign. These people should be ambassadors of the city, since “talent attracts talent. And if they are not, the city has a serious problem.
8) Quality infrastructures. It is not possible to be a talent hub without being well connected with the world. It is essential to have good air, rail and road connections.
9) Security and cleanliness. The city should be a pleasant place to live and spend time. It seems obvious, but it is not always so.
10) Finally, “quality of life”: pleasant climate, gastronomic and cultural offer, an efficient public transport service. In short, there are many aspects that influence people when making their decisions and considering long-term life projects. Leveraging exclusively on these aspects as a city is tempting, but a serious mistake. They are undoubtedly a competitive advantage that must be exploited, since, in general, the vast majority of people prefer a sunny city, in which they do not waste several hours a day in traffic jams, and that offer leisure alternatives for all ages. and public. But it's not enough.
In short, although there are probably other causes that have a direct impact on the attractiveness of a city to attract and retain talent, the above are probably the backbone of a benchmark city-brand and with the desire to offer a competitive advantage in a increasingly competitive environment.