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Brexit Britain be warned, there are countries better geared to take the world's tech talent

The founder of an Estonian recruitment platform tells Computer Weekly about how Estonia addresses its IT skills shortage

Estonia’s immigration policy is the polar opposite of countries like the UK and US, which are trying to reduce the number of people that come from overseas to work.

Like Ireland, the Baltic state has liberal immigration rules, with its eyes set on international tech talent with itchy feet.

Due to a lack of natural resources, the country has set a course to become a leading location for IT companies and is also a pioneer of digital government services. Estonia, which has about 1.3 million citizens, has introduced several programmes to attract investment and foreign workers.

But current figures show a shortfall of about 10,000 IT professionals in Estonia, a figure that includes knowledge and expertise across the IT industry including software engineers as well as sales and marketing. With more startups per capita than any other country, a shortage of talent could have huge ramifications.

This is not lost on the government. The country is introducing legislation and policies to address this quickly so it does not miss out on the perceived opportunity.

For example, since 2015, Estonia has also pioneered an e-Residency programme, which gives foreigners, such as entrepreneurs, access to government services. An Estonian e-Residency is a transnational digital identity available to anyone in the world interested in administering a business online.

The Estonian government is also working with a recruitment platform on the possibility of introducing a special visa for people who work mainly online. The plan, which is being put together by the country’s ministry of the interior and recruitment platform Jobbatical, is to produce a so-called “digital nomad visa”, which would enable people to work and travel in Estonia for a year and give them access to 25 other countries in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days.

Addressing challenges

This is not the only work government is doing with Jobbatical. Karoli Hindriks, CEO at the Estonia-based recruitment company, tells Computer Weekly about how Estonia is addressing its people challenges.

There are talent shortages across the board for businesses in Estonia but it is particularly acute in the IT sector. “Today, according to the Estonian government the country is short of 10,000 people with the right IT skills,” said Hindriks. “There are more and more global companies building their teams here so Estonia is making immigration very simple.”

For example, she said businesses can get permits to bring foreign nationals in within 24 hours. Estonia’s small population means businesses in the county cannot operate without foreign workers. Karoli said Jobbatical has staff from 20 different countries.

Jobbatical is a platform aimed at people that want to work in another country. It matches talent with opportunities and supports workers relocating through dialogue with governments. “We work with governments to help them understand what the pain points are when trying to fill skills gaps.” It also works closely with Singapore and Malaysia.

The private company helps national governments understand and address the challenges bringing talent from overseas. Countries like Estonia might not be the first choice for IT professionals that want to work overseas, with competition from places like the US’s west coast, but by making it easier for people to move there for work creates an advantage. “We help government understand the barriers and promote countries to the talent,” she said.

Beyond advising governments on smoothing the rules around immigration Jobbatical also promotes destinations. “We help the Estonian government market to talent groups overseas,” said Karoli.

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The latest programme in Estonia is an attempt to help businesses cover the costs of bringing workers in from other countries. With regulations and high relocation costs many small and startup companies are put off seeking overseas staff.

“We are trying to give companies the courage and resources to bring people from abroad,” said Karoli.

People from a variety of countries are moving to Estonia to work. The US, India, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines are the countries of origin of many of the workers using the Jobbatical platform seeking work there.

Ireland is another country using a liberal immigration system to attract the best talent. Shane Nolan, senior vice-president technology at IDA Ireland, which promotes foreign investment in the country recently told Computer weekly that the Irish immigration system is a competitive advantage over the UK.

“We are constantly tuning our immigration policy to make it as pro-business as we can. It is based around exactly what these companies are looking for and is one of the most effective and user-friendly immigration system they deal with.”

The opportunity to attract people that might have seen the UK as a good place to work, will increase as the UK loses the benefits and openness as a result of Brexit. “The global rhetoric at the moment is against immigration, but we see immigration as a competitive lever,” said Nolan.

English-speaking jobs

Furthermore, the number of English-speaking jobs advertised in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam has jumped since the UK’s Brexit referendum in June 2016, with the German capital looking for the most tech professionals.

Research by German recruitment website Joblift showed that demand for English-speaking professionals in all three cities grew up to March this year grew more quickly than the job market as a whole. In Berlin, just over 10,000 vacancies for English speakers have been advertised since the UK referendum. These have increased at a rate of 3% a month compared with the overall jobs increase of 2% a month.

A total of 3,103 of the English-speaking jobs advertised in the German capital were directly concerned with tech, and these jobs have been increasing by an average of 4% a month. The top-ranking jobs advertised were: intern (524), web developer (423) and software developer (230).

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