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More import of knowledge workers due to shortage of technologists

Article translated as appeared in 'Technisch Weekblad', March 13th 2015.

‘It would be good to bind these master students to The Netherlands after their graduation.’

For years now, The Netherlands have faced a lack of technical personnel, especially real technical specialists. Dutch technical companies have seen an increasing number of expats over the years. According to most experts, this is a positive development, but mainly if one is able to bind both technical expats and students to our country. ‘The international knowledge worker leaves hearth and home, so we must offer something as well.’

Dependent on where one draws the line of the income limit, the number of employees who were born in foreign countries and who have high wages, varies from 39,100 to 75,200 people. This was stated by CBS (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek) in its recently published report called ‘Expat, wanneer ben je het?’ (When is one an expat? red.). The word expat, which is an abbreviation of expatriate, refers to someone who is working in another country for a short period for a relatively high salary, often seconded by a large multinational. As CBS cannot provide information on the international employee’s length of stay and because the employee is no longer employed by a multinational in all cases, it would be better to call them ‘international knowledge workers’.

Most of them, about 16,000 people, work in business services. Geographically speaking, they work mainly in the provinces of Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland and Noord-Brabant, with a cluster around the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Eindhoven. ‘Unfortunately, we cannot foresee the growth of the numbers of international knowledge workers, as for this research we have only used the facts and figures from 2011.’, states Lona Verkooijen, one of the authors of the CBS report.

However, in the south of The Netherlands, an increase of international knowledge workers can be seen. From 2007, their numbers have grown with more than 180% in a span of 5 years, which is an increase of 8,400 people. This was found in the analysis made by research office Decisio for Holland Expat Center Zuid last year. In 2012, the knowledge workers were mainly employed by the electro-technical industry and ICT companies. Next to that, a considerable part was active in scientific education.

More women

About 32% of the international knowledge workers are employed by companies in the Eindhoven region. Amongst others, chip machine producer ASML says it recruits more and more foreign employees. The year figures that the company published at the end of January, show that out of all newly employed people, around 36% have another nationality than Dutch. In 2013 still, this was only 25%. ‘The largest group of international knowledge workers is from China, India and Taiwan, followed by Italy, Belgium and Spain.’, says Lucas van Grinsven, spokesperson for ASML. It is remarkable that a quarter of these people are women, which is higher than the percentage of Dutch women. This shows that technical jobs are more popular with non-Dutch women than with their Dutch counterparts.

‘No, it is not the case that we aim for a certain percentage of international knowledge workers at our company.’, states Van Grinsven when asked. ‘We are always on the lookout for the best talents closest to home. At ASML, we need a variety of technical competences, some of which are scarce in The Netherlands. Anyway, we have too few technologists in our country, which can be seen both in higher education and in vocational training. The suppliers of our materials share this issue. The increase in the number of international knowledge workers, whether or not they have graduated from a Dutch university, is bound to continue for some time.

Working with so many different nationalities is both an advantage and a challenge, according to the spokesperson. ‘We are aware of the cultural differences. People who have worked here for some time, have already got used to our being so direct. However, during an internal meeting the other day, we have stressed that everybody has a right to speak their minds. Get things off your chest.’

Amongst TMC consultants, the international technologist is on the upturn as well. ‘Ever since 2004 we have been recruiting in foreign countries and out of 700 employees, about 20% have a non-Dutch nationality’, says CEO Thijs Manders. According to Manders, this growth can be best observed at TMC’s most recent branch in Belgium, which opened its doors in September 2014. This branch employs 35 people of 11 different nationalities. ‘It is mainly our business model (Employeneurship, in which the employee is also an entrepreneur and shares in the profit, red.) that goes down well with international knowledge workers. It attracts adventurous people. Next to that, we always offer a permanent contract.’ Manders has found that word-of-mouth also ensures a further increase in the amount of international knowledge workers.

‘They recommend their old study buddies.’

Chairman of the TU/e (technical university of Eindhoven, red.) board, engineer Jan Mengelers can see the reason why a large number of international knowledge workers are making a career in the region.

‘Eindhoven and its surroundings are the hotspot of the industry. Here one is tempted to stay longer than planned.’ At TU/e itself, about 3,100 people are employed, one third of them having a non-Dutch nationality. Out of all international knowledge workers, 60 to 70% are PhD people. ‘All universities focus on international cooperation. We receive more and more assignments from other countries and EU projects.’, says Mengelers.

Apart from international knowledge workers, the university also attracts many foreign master students: about 25% have a non-Dutch nationality. ‘It would be good to bind these master students to The Netherlands after graduation. Not only does one keep the knowledge in The Netherlands, but one also acts upon the shortage of technologists on the labor market.’

The advice report Make it in the Netherlands! Advies over binding van buitenlandse studenten aan Nederland (Advice on binding foreign students to The Netherlands, red.) published in 2013 by the Sociaal-Economische Raad (social economical council, red.) states that two-thirds up to three-quarters of the foreign students would actually like to stay in The Netherlands. Science and technology students would rather stay here than students of other subjects do. Mengelers: ‘At the end of the day, only 20% actually stay here. Nuffic (the Dutch organization for international cooperation in higher education, red.) states that the percentage is in fact 27 if one takes a temporary stay of a few years into account.’

The chairman of the board thinks that The Netherlands should do more when it comes to capitalize on the varied community that is coming up. ‘The international knowledge worker leaves hearth and home, so we must offer something as well. Not only for the people themselves, but also for their families that join them. Language courses, activities, counseling with regards to financial matters, you name it.’


Despite the fact that there are 75,000 international knowledge workers who live in The Netherlands, our country is regarded as one the world’s most unfriendly countries for expats. This was made clear by the questionnaire that is held yearly by international business bank HSBC. In 2010, friendliness was measured by the difficulty of making friends. Only 36% of the knowledge workers in The Netherlands stated that it was easy to make friends. In 2014, The Netherlands ended up being number 30 out of 34 countries, taking the whole experience into account. Here we only leave the UK, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt behind us. On the other hand, our country is popular when it comes to raising children, as we are in the 15th position here.

ASML employee dr. Carsten Schuck does not agree with this bad reputation of the Dutch. ‘Indeed, the Dutch are more direct, especially when you compare them to people from Spain. However, in my experience the Dutch personality is very tolerant.’ Laughing, he adds: ‘That is, as long as we don’t talk about soccer.’

Originally from Germany, Schuck studied physics at the technical university of Hamburg and proceeded with his career in Spain, where he did a PhD in applied physics. In the next five years, he worked as a post doc researcher at the department of electrical engineering at Yale University in the USA. Since January 1st he has worked for ASML in Veldhoven. Schuck: ‘It is good to be back in Europe. Everything is nearby. It is the first time I have lived in The Netherlands, but, so far, I like it. ASML provided me with an apartment during my first two months, so I had time to find something suitable myself, which I did. My only problem is the language. I need to work on that.’

Together with the Muziekgebouw (music building, red.) ASML organizes all kinds of activities for all employees in order to get to know each other better. The German physicist has had no time for this so far, but he does not expect any problems when trying to make friends. ‘It depends largely on yourself. You have to make an effort. At ASML, people from different nationalities work together. In my team, there is mix of 50% Dutch and 50% people of other nationalities. To me, it is not that just because we are in the same boat, I prefer to make contact with other international knowledge workers. We all have the same scientific background, so we speak the same scientific language.’

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