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An interview with

Prof. Dr. Willem Vermeend

Hays talked with Prof. Dr. Willem Vermeend about the importance of top talent for the Dutch commercial sector. Vermeend is internationally active as an internet entrepreneur, investor, writer, company supervisory board member and a part-time professor of Economics and Internet.  Winners are characterised by their ability to attract talented employees, says Willem Vermeend.

Hays: “You say that many talented people are moving abroad and that this will result in considerably reduced economic growth in the Netherlands in the coming years.”
Vermeend: “Worldwide we see that additional economic growth is being realised by making use of the opportunities that the digital highway has to offer. Digitalisation leads to a strengthened economic structure and contributes to green growth and international competitiveness. This competition is increasingly seen between international cities and regions throughout the world. The winners are characterised by internationally attractive business and living conditions and the ability to attract talented employees and creative entrepreneurs.

Hays: “According to a survey carried out by Hays and Oxford Economics, the world is facing an economic paradox. Currently, many countries are facing a high and rising level of unemployment, combined with a chronic lack of highly trained personnel. This leads to an inflexible labour market, even fiercer worldwide competition for talented people, rising salaries for qualified personnel and a deterioration in the quality of education. Why is the Netherlands unattractive to top talent and why do they leave?”
Vermeend: “We have insufficient technically trained people at all levels. In 2016, there will be a shortage of approximately 150 thousand technicians and ICT employees.  Bearing in mind the increasing worldwide competition, it is also important that countries provide the highest level of training. Here, the Netherlands is ranked somewhere in the middle. We are not one of the best in the world. For instance, there are no Dutch universities ranked in the world top 50. If you want to count as a country - and retain talented people - you should actually be in the top 20. Therefore, I predict that increasingly more talented people will go abroad. There are insufficient challenges and opportunities here. The Dutch government should mainly consider how we can retain top talent and how we can make our country more attractive to top talent. In that respect, I am not very optimistic about the current policy.”

Hays: “How well is the Dutch commercial sector prepared for driving down the shortages on the labour market?”
Vermeend: “Increasingly, Dutch companies have to search for business outside of Europe and this requires a different human resources policy. This is because you will not manage with the existing personnel who have not been internationally trained and who have a regional or European focus. If you must work outside of Europe, you will have to recruit international talent and you cannot do that without searching for talent from abroad. In addition, companies would also be wise to invest in a forgotten group that can have great significance, the older top talent. Entrepreneurs now mainly focus on young creative talent, but you need a combination of youth and experience. You can use this experience by retraining, but you have to do this smartly. It is insufficient just to have good technicians. You need a combination of technical, commercial and enterprising talent. Older employees are certainly willing to make this transition.”

Hays: “What developments do you envisage with respect to company Human Resources policies?”
Vermeend: “As a company, you must be much more active to take advantage of all the opportunities the internet has to offer. One of the trends I see in business-to-business is big data, the analysis of all the digital data that are available and that you can use to see what people might possibly do. It is advantageous also to use all of this data for your human resources policy, which is increasingly pursued via the internet. After all, employees also do so. Using search engine technology, you can already search for specific future employees who in their online CV characterise themselves as being ambitious, creative, enterprising, etc. The future winners will be the companies that employ creative and enterprising top talent, that are internationally oriented and that effectively respond to the rapid developments in the online world. These are the parameters that you should select on.”


Big Data
Every day, we generate 2.5 trillion bytes of data — this means that 90% of the data existing in the world has been generated in the past two years. These data originate from everywhere: from sensors used to collect climate data, from posts on social media sites, from digital photos and videos, from transaction records and from GPS signals on smartphones, to name just a few. We call this big data.


Hays: “Recently, the discussion regarding business climate seems to have mainly focused on the fiscal benefits for multinationals, not about the attractiveness to employees.”

Vermeend: “In my opinion, we should no longer focus on country economies, but on region economies. As a relatively small country, on a global scale the Netherlands is actually a city-state or a region that can rapidly develop into a digitized state. If we want to realise economic growth, we must turn our country into a city-state. Entrepreneurs should explore the market and investigate the areas where our country must excel to be able to attract sufficient human capital in the coming years. One of the developments we see is that emerging companies often influence economic growth. Lively inner cities are very important for our business climate. These emerging companies are often located in the city, where you can effectively combine work and a private life. Finally, most innovations emerge from smaller companies. If we as the Netherlands manage to attract creative talent, as a relatively small country, we will be able to compete with international regions.”