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Dutch companies struggle to fill tech jobs

There are plenty of IT job vacancies in the Netherlands, but a shortage of IT professionals

Changing demographics and rising needs are making the Netherlands’ high-tech job market very favourable for job seekers. 

Gordon Lokenberg has been recruiting for Dutch firms since 1999, working mostly on high-tech jobs at all levels – from software and test engineers to CIOs and CTOs. He has worked with some big names, including Sonos, Tomtom and T-Mobile, and also recruits for many lesser-known companies and startups. 

Lokenberg summed up the high-tech job market as follows: “The market in the Netherlands is excellent for people looking for a job; and it’s horrible for companies and recruiters. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, for every 100 job seekers, we have about 133 jobs.”

Many Dutch firms are looking for IT staff abroad. When they find a suitable recruit, the new employee has to go through the process of getting a visa. The Netherlands government has helped by speeding up the process and lowering the fees, and the process of getting a visa now takes about a month. 

To get a visa, employees have to obtain “highly skilled migrant” status. One of the requirements is that they should have a “recognised sponsor”, which the hiring company has to have already applied for and obtained. To help businesses, the government reduced the fees for companies to become recognised sponsors – especially for those with fewer than 50 employees.  

“We are getting people literally from all over the globe,” said Lokenberg. “A lot of companies put out advertisements, but there are so many jobs out there that your ad has to be really special to get noticed. Most ads get no replies – but if you look in India, you get a lot of replies.”

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However, not all companies want to hire from abroad. Some want to stay as Dutch as possible, hiring only locally. But this strategy is not likely to work well in the long term, given the country’s demographics. All people born just after the Second World War baby boom are now turning 67. In the meantime, the Netherlands’ birth rate has fallen – and recruiters are feeling the effects. 

Companies are using a variety of techniques to attract candidates. They hold meetups, where they get a bunch of people together, buy them pizza and beer and give them a presentation about the company and the jobs on offer. They do speed dating. 

Most recruiters in the Netherlands post their ads and pray for candidates to apply. The trouble is, so many companies are looking for cyber security experts and DevOps engineers that potential candidates are not likely to reply to any given ad. Lokenberg finds more success when he personalises the search. 

“As a recruiter, I will go to the hiring manager and ask him or her questions about the role,” he said. “What is the nature of the job? What kind of skills are they looking for? What are they offering? I think about key words and put them in the search engine and use X-ray searches and all the other crazy commands you can use on Google. Names pop up.”

Lokenberg added: “One good place to look is on LinkedIn, where there are over 800 million users. But most developers try to hide because they don’t want to be harassed by recruiters. Experienced people get 20 to 50 emails a week from random recruiters that need them.

“Then there are the other platforms. If you’re looking for UX people, you go to Dribbble. If you’re looking for software engineers, you go to GitHub. They share their code there. If they’re good in Java, they have a lot of repositories in Java. If you do some tricks, you can find their email on the same platform.”

Lokenberg sends likely candidates a personal email – and not just once. It usually takes three or four messages to get a response. He tries to automate as much as possible, without making the message feel automated to the recipient. In the end, the engineer wants to talk to the hiring manager who has real insights into the role.  

Unlimited vacations

Some companies offer unlimited vacations, where people can take as much vacation as they want, provided they get the job done. People are allowed to work at least part of the time remotely – and some companies allow fully remote work. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the fear that people won’t do anything from home has disappeared. 

Companies are also getting more generous with salaries. But that’s a slippery slope. If one company pays more, another will go above that. Inflation is also causing salaries to rise – but companies can’t just break their budget to recruit. 

To keep salaries on a more normal level, they recruit from other countries, trying to sell the adventure of coming to the Netherlands. They offer improved relocation fees, such as paying the first two months’ rent instead of the first two weeks. 

“When you recruit from other countries, you can try to sell the job as an adventure,” said Lokenberg. “But sometimes you get these messages a week or so after they sign the contract, saying they have had another discussion with their spouse and the spouse wasn’t so sold after all on moving to the Netherlands, and so they back out. You have to pay attention to the spouse as well. You might offer to help the spouse find a job, for example.

“You ask people to come from Australia to the Netherlands and from Brazil, but we don’t have the nice beaches here.”

But the Netherlands does have some strong selling points. It starts with the easygoing nature of the Dutch people and the laissez-faire attitude. The country is well organised – and of course there are many jobs. 

For such a small country, the Netherlands is home to a disproportionately large number of multinational companies – including Royal Dutch Shell, which Forbes ranks as the biggest company in Europe and fifth-biggest in the world. Other big Dutch companies include ING, Unilever and Philips. Also, the country’s infrastructure is excellent, with 99% high-speed internet coverage. 

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