Special feature

This chapter is supported
by Oslo Region Alliance

Talent attraction
and retention

The early signs are that Oslo is on the radar among those exploring new work and lifestyle opportunities after Covid.

Oslo’s talent opportunity after COVID

For Oslo’s quest to attract and retain the future talent it needs, is Covid-19 a friend or a foe?

The choices that will be made by mobile talent have never been so open to change as they are in 2021. Covid-19 has created a new set of relationships between life and work, an increased duty of care for businesses, new attitudes to the workplace, and altered priorities about where and how individuals and families wish to live.

More than two-thirds of global citizens have changed their perceptions about countries based on how well they have managed the pandemic. Cities have to win back the benefit of the doubt after more than a year of hiatus and health risks. The race is now on for many cities to shore up their proposition to talent, and establish themselves as winners in the shake up that is ‘city-to-city’ and also ‘city-to-region’.

The early signs are that Oslo is on the radar among those exploring new work and lifestyle opportunities after Covid, although it is not as visible as many of its peer regions. The challenge ahead is to gain wider recognition as a preferred location – not only among prospective residents, but also among prospective students, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.

Oslo and Norway in studies of the top places to move to post-Covid

Figure 10: Aggregate recognition and visibility of Oslo and peer cities in global ‘top’ lists of places to move to post-Covid, since mid-2020

Source: The Business of Cities research. *Max = city or country appears in all top lists and is consistently rated in the top 5. See Appendix for full scoring system.

There are clearly at least some favourable dynamics that point to Oslo being a beneficiary from the great reset in talent’s expectations. Yet this requires very decisive differentiation to gain from this ‘flight to competence’.

The push and pull of talent towards Oslo after the pandemic

One big question for Oslo is whether Covid-19 in the medium term will accelerate a drive towards a more distributed system of cities in Europe, by pushing demand towards smaller cities with a higher quality of life, where health systems are strong and green and where climate-conscious development is a priority. There are clearly at least some favourable dynamics that point to Oslo being a beneficiary from the great reset in talent’s expectations. Yet this requires very decisive differentiation to gain from this ‘flight to competence’.

The evidence suggests that more of the region’s edge will hinge on how well it attracts and retains talent in high growth, high productivity industries and how well it demonstrates that it is prepared for a more blended environment shaped by automation and agile collaboration teams.35 This requires a distinctive proposition to specialist and talent alongside closer relationships between education and businesses to prepare all types of talent for digital transformation and an AI-influenced future.36

Key predictions of the future of talent attraction and retention

The talent war between cities will resume

“[The] high-stakes race to attract talent, new business and capital...for the most part…will continue, albeit under new rules. Those markets that can adapt to a post-pandemic world will be best-placed to succeed.”
[Urban Land Institute]37

“Capital regions… show a relatively higher risk of job disruption [relative to] other regions.”
[OECD]38

Cities have to adjust their offer to foster flexibility and collaboration

“It’s the amenities and experiences available…that have become highly sought-after commodities.”
[Knight Frank]39

“[Covid 19] has shone a light on the importance of developing cities in smaller modules, with essential services concentrated around community hubs.”
[Arup]40

“We will see even greater emphasis placed on creating the best possible human experience, with more focus on supporting learning and development, creativity and collaboration”
[World Economic Forum]41

Cities must support their businesses to adapt

“To hire and keep top talent, the scarcest capital of all, means creating a unique work experience and committing to a renewed emphasis on talent development.”
[McKinsey & Co.]42

“Organisations need to draw visible linkages as to how their contributions are making an impact on the organisation and society as a whole.”
[Deloitte]43

New battle lines for talent

“Emerging technologies like AI, robotics, smart manufacturing and autonomous vehicles, are making the war for tech talent even fiercer.”
[City Nation Place]44

“Upskilling today’s workforces is critical if companies are to harness the power of AI, capitalise on their talent and stay competitive.”
[Deloitte]45

Which types of cities are becoming more attractive to talent?

Another key dynamic is the gradually growing talent competitiveness of Asia-Pacific cities.46 More cities from the Middle East through to New Zealand are performing higher up the rankings for the most desirable locations after Covid and are perceived to have been very effective at managing the pandemic. Cities in South East Asia, China and Russia are proving more effective at retaining talent and attracting returning talent, with one study finding that 80% of Chinese students studying overseas now return home, compared to 15% in the early 2000s.47 

There are also three city-level dimensions that have already emerged as more important for talent attraction: (1) sustainable city living; (2) regional convenience; and (3) high experience workspaces.

The pandemic recovery provides a window of opportunity for Oslo to appeal to sustainability-minded talent. Covid-19 has led to a renewed focus on health, safety and the environment; all of which will become more important to the ability of cities to attract and retain talent.48 Preferences of residents and entrepreneurs are shifting to favour electric vehicles, bicycles and e-scooters as well as walking and cycling, and mobility facilitated by contactless, fully digitised payments systems.49 To justify their commutes, talent is demanding more effective measures against pollution from road traffic, such as zero-emission zones and car-free city centres.50 Oslo is already ahead of the curve on many of these agendas, yet has to demonstrate it can use its green credentials to cement its position even more strongly as it emerges from the pandemic. 

The pandemic recovery provides a window of opportunity for Oslo to appeal to sustainability-minded talent.

As well as seeking nature and a more balanced pace of life, urban consumers will demand more authentic, fresh and ‘never-before’ experiences as a trade-off for coming ‘back to the city.’

What talent may now expect from cities

More people demanding a more compact ‘15 minute’ city model that combines medium density with high amenity can also work to Oslo’s advantage. Throughout the pandemic, as public transport has been shut down, the importance of having essential services, amenities and health facilities within walking distance of residential areas has come into focus like never before.51 But as well as seeking nature and a more balanced pace of life, urban consumers will demand more authentic, fresh and ‘never-before’ experiences as a trade-off for coming ‘back to the city.’  Smaller and more compact cities like Oslo will be well equipped to meet these desires. Yet to attract top talent they will have to combine strong work opportunities with a way to show they can translate their renowned liveability advantage into this post-Covid context,  and to invest in the pop-ups, flexible uses and new service models to accommodate a high experience, low-friction urban lifestyle.

The shift towards working-from-home and the office-as-a-service model can be an opportunity for Oslo’s appeal to the next generation of entrepreneurs and workers. Regions will be better at attracting and retaining new talent if their business culture is more strongly focused around cultivating employee experience and wellbeing, which younger generations value highly. With workspaces set to become centred more around human experience, collaboration, fitness and creativity, Oslo will be tasked with more proactive communication of its message around sustainability and wellbeing in order to capture more of the dividends of this shift.

Oslo’s position

How good is Oslo at retaining talent?

Covid-19 has been a unique crisis, yet one that also emphasises Oslo’s ability to retain top talent. In the 12 months to January 2021, Oslo is 2nd among its peer group across all measures relating to talent retention, versus 17th for talent attraction.52 Along with Copenhagen and Zurich, Oslo is one of only 3 European cities among its wider peer group to feature in the top 20 on aggregate across both attraction and retention.  New data also point to Oslo having retained a much larger share of its top-tier talent throughout the duration of the pandemic relative to other cities, with Oslo ranking 5th among its peer group for retention of graduates of the region’s world top 1000 universities.53

Oslo continues to perform better than others in the areas that push many urban residents to consider moving elsewhere. This includes air pollution, access to quality green space, satisfaction with public services and transport, and overall environmental quality.

Oslo has the ingredients to cater to talent in a post-Covid world

Figure 11: Aggregate ranking for ingredients for talent attraction and retention, Oslo and peer cities (Cities to the left hand side of the line perform more strongly for ingredients for talent retention Cities to the right hand side of the line perform more strongly for ingredients for talent attraction)

Source: The Business of Cities research.

How well set up is Oslo for the future of work?

Oslo’s industry structure means more jobs can be done remotely than in other regions, but the ingredients and culture for flexible working are not as externally visible to prospective entrepreneurs. Nearly half of jobs in Oslo are fit for remote working – the 8th highest share in Europe.54 Oslo also benefits from a higher number of employees working in the knowledge, policy and digital economy relative to its size, compared to other European cities. However, emerging evidence suggests that the availability of registered co-working space is lower. It is also not as obvious to global audiences, based on externally facing job adverts, that employers recruiting during the pandemic support a culture of flexible working. Oslo ranks 27th of 30 cities for the number of desks, private offices and meeting rooms suited to co-working, and in Autumn 2020 had the 2nd lowest share of job adverts referring to the potential for ‘flexible working’ among 50 cities globally.55

Nearly half of jobs in Oslo are fit for remote working – the 8th highest share in Europe.

Sources: OECD, LinkedIn Talent Insights. See Appendix for methodology.

Oslo’s jobs base is highly suited to the shift to remote working

Figure 12: % of jobs suitable for remote working and per capita size of knowledge-rich talent pool in Oslo and selected peers

How much of a deterrent is Oslo’s cost of living?

High salaries and disposable income remain a big draw for prospective talent, but local cost of living is still a challenge. Oslo is 30th out of 100 cities globally for household disposable income, but in one study, Oslo ranks 91st of 100 cities for rental affordability when non-rental costs are taken into account.56 Once salaries and wages are offset against costs, Oslo remains firmly in the bottom third of its peer group, ranking outside the global top 150 for all-round purchasing power.57 High costs, together with emerging evidence to suggest that people are becoming more cost-conscious consumers, may be one reason why Oslo and Norway are less visibly recognised in ‘top’ lists of the places entrepreneurs, innovators and others are seeking to move to after Covid-19.

How family friendly is Oslo?

Oslo has the fundamentals necessary to cater to long-term residents, but new data suggests that efforts to support family friendliness across all age groups may become more important. Oslo is now 2nd in its peer group overall for measures relating to long-term talent suitability.58 But new survey data suggest that Oslo is not quite as strong for how well set up the region is for young families and elderly people. Cost is a major reason the region ranks 9th of 9 peer cities for its overall appeal to families and is outside the top 30 European regions for the proportion of residents agreeing that it is a good place for families with young children or elderly residents.59

Oslo’s family friendliness has room to improve

Figure 13: % of residents agreeing the region is a good place for families with young children

Source: EU Barometer Quality of Life in European Cities. 

Implications for Oslo in the next cycle

Oslo’s performance in talent metrics in 2020/21, combined with the insights from thought leaders and other city approaches internationally, point to 10 especially relevant features for Oslo moving forward to optimise its position.

1.

Use post-pandemic reputation bounce.

2.

Hybrid lifestyle: remote work, flourishing regional centres and ‘15 minute city’ feel.

3.

More affordable city centre housing.

4.

Affordable innovation space

5.

Family friendly city living

6.

Well communicated sustainability and work-life advantage

7.

Specialist talent attraction

8.

Ingredients for talent retention: innovation, community, services

9.

More flexible city centre workspace

10.

Flexible and welcoming business culture

This means that it will be important to:
  • Assess fully whether Oslo has gained a reputational edge through its management of Covid-19, and among which kinds of prospective talent (entrepreneurs, families, millennials, etc.). 
  • Develop a very clear, credible and well-communicated post-pandemic recovery plan. Oslo needs to show it has a clear sense of what changes it is making, and that there are new features to rediscover after Covid.
  • The business community can work to more visibly demonstrate its culture of supporting employees to work flexibly and remotely.
  • Use the opportunity to more confidently convey the opportunity and advantages of living in the region to families with young children.
  • Prioritise more concerted policy attention on attracting specialist and international talent and differentiating the city amid a ‘flight to competence’.
  • Support real estate investors to design the types of new, flexible and innovative working environments, including via ‘Office as a service’ models, that can help to re-attract workers to the office as the pandemic subsides.