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TopDutch: a magnet for highly skilled expats

The chemical industry of the TopDutch region thrives on talented employees. The knowledge institutes supply many outstandingly trained chemists every year. The region is also an attractive business location for expats.

Infrastructure and facilities are not the only aspects that are important for chemical companies in the TopDutch region. The availability of talented and specialized staff is crucial to the success of an enterprise. In the chemical sector, too: People make the difference.

BASF’s site in Heerenveen is a case in point. The company - established in the TopDutch region during the late nineties - employs over 200 people. It produces binders for paints and varnishes and makes additives for printing and packaging.  In Heerenveen, research is being conducted into the optimization and further development of these binders, with the aim of making them more sustainable. ‘We continue to innovate for our customers in order to realize our sustainable ambitions. That means we’re always looking for highly trained chemists,’ says Marieke Jeurink, HR Business Partner at BASF.

‘We prefer to find these people in the region. However, BASF also employs people who have worked at different sites around the world. We’re an internationally operating company and our customers are worldwide. We work in an international knowledge organization and therefore have a need for international personnel.’

Marieke Jeurink, HR Business Partner at BASF Heerenveen

Knowledge institutes

A career, not just a degree

Being located in the TopDutch region has its advantages, Jeurink acknowledges. ‘We like to work with innovative start-ups to develop expertise and innovate together. There are also knowledge institutes that offer training courses that are relevant to us. We work closely with them. Examples include the Bachelors’ in Chemistry at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen and Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Emmen, the chemical technology course at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden, and of course the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Groningen. We also offer traineeships, for example. And because we want to show that we’re an attractive employer, we offer knowledge institutes research projects, give lectures, organize guest lectures and put in an appearance during the open days.’

The Faculty of Science and Engineering is world-renowned. This is the workplace of Professor of Organic Chemistry Ben Feringa, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2016. Marieke Jeurink tells us: ‘The quality of our programs attracts students from all over the world to our region.’

The quality of our programs attracts students from all over the world to our region.

Marieke Jeurink, HR Business Partner at BASF Heerenveen
Be prepared for a career


All these students - the Faculty of Science and Engineering alone has 5,700 bachelor’s and master’s students - have to be prepared for a career in their field of work. The University of Groningen helps students with this. Yvonne Jordens is Head of Career Services and looks to make the transition from study to the labor market run smoothly. Yvonne Jordens focuses on employability. ‘Students learn to stand on their own two feet during their studies so that they can do meaningful and enjoyable work. Our services as a university go beyond handing out a diploma. Students expect us to prepare them for a career in a rapidly digitizing, robotizing, ever-changing labor market.’

Employers also come to her on a regular basis. ‘We act as a point of contact for employers and highly educated talent. Internships, starter positions, traineeships: We help with all that.’

Our campus holds great appeal to employers.

Yvonne Jordens, Head of Career Services at University of Groningen

Hotspot in chemistry
This is why Yvonne Jordens maintains close contact with the companies operating at the Energy Academy on the Zernike Campus in Groningen. ‘There is strong demand for chemistry students. Our campus holds great appeal to employers.’

At the same time, the chemical companies regularly call in specialists from outside the region. These are the words of Ruurd Jorna, Senior Sourcing Consultant at the internationally listed secondment company Brunel. ‘Employers in this region often ask for profiles in chemical technology, mechanical engineering and process control technology. Examples include process, service, electrical, maintenance and reliability engineers, trained from intermediate vocational to university level.’ Brunel sources many of these specialists from all over the world on behalf of employers from the TopDutch region. His colleague Johan Martin de Vries, Global Sourcing Manager explains: ‘we assist with the resettlement of specialist employees in this region.’

Facilities of the TopDutch region

Outstanding facilities attract knowledge workers

When choosing an employer in the TopDutch region, candidates also consider the facilities. De Vries explains: ‘The expats we mediate for tell us that they like working here. The open way of communicating, the egalitarian culture, the down-to-earth nature of the people - these are things that are very attractive to employees. It also helps that the Dutch speak excellent English.’

Johan Martin de Vries, Manager Global Sourcing

Expats also pay attention to the ‘soft’ facilities that the region has to offer: education, infrastructure, and medical and cultural facilities. Ruurd explains ‘many expats find the student city of Groningen attractive to live in. Housing is reasonably easy to find. The distance from Groningen to Eemshaven is 40 kilometers, to Delfzijl 30 kilometers and to Emmen 60 kilometers.’

Good education and a selection of sports and recreational facilities are important for expats who come across with their families. In Groningen, for example, there is an international school. ‘But the Dutch public schools are also of excellent quality’, adds De Vries.

The direct way of communicating, the egalitarian culture, the down-to-earth nature of the people: The Netherlands is very attractive for employees.

Johan Martin de Vries, Manager Global Sourcing, Brunel Groningen
Getting settled and permits

‘Arrive today, start work tomorrow’

How does the process of getting an expat settled go? This is explained by Michiel Kasteleijn, business manager of the International Welcome Center North (IWCN). IWCN ensures that the ‘landing’ of new employees from abroad runs smoothly and quickly. Together with the company the expat works for, IWCN remotely applies for permits, visas, tax registrations and so on so that the knowledge worker has as little paperwork as possible to do on arrival. ‘People who are recruited with a lot of work by large companies are at work within 1 to 3 days of their arrival. In the past, it took six to eight weeks to arrange a work permit alone.’

Michiel Kasteleijn, business manager of the International Welcome Center North (IWCN)

IWCN also helps with ‘soft’ arrangements, such as finding a school for the children, opening a bank account and taking out health insurance. ‘The expat arranges his paperwork from a distance. We plan the necessary appointments, based on his travel plans. On arrival in the Netherlands, the employee receives a work permit, a residence permit and all necessary information about life in the region, including an offer of social activities for an accompanying partner.’

Expats are at work here within 1 to 3 days of their arrival.

Michiel Kasteleijn, business manager of the International Welcome Center North (IWCN)

Over the past four years, IWCN has helped more than 15,000 employees in the region, from PhDs to CEOs, from lab technicians and engineers to university professors. Many of these talents work for chemical groups such as Nouryon, Teijin Aramid, Avebe, BASF and Avantium. Some of the expats were granted a visa to set up a start-up as entrepreneurs. The TopDutch region has a large number of facilitators who help budding entrepreneurs to set up their - mostly technical and chemical - start-ups. Michiel Kasteleijn states: ‘Take Zero to One in Emmen, Launch Café in Groningen and Inqubator in Leeuwarden, Friesland. Investors are linked to these organizations.’

The number of expats moving to the region is increasing. This fits in with the innovation in the TopDutch region. Chemport Europe, for example, wants to achieve a fully sustainable supply chain by 2050. This is why companies in the region are increasingly asking for personnel with relatively new profiles.

Energy transition in our region

Sustainable ambition attracts new talent to the TopDutch region

BASF is also becoming more sustainable, says Marieke Jeurink. ‘We develop sustainable solutions, such as a water-based binder for inks. This means that we need employees who know about and have experience with this type of work.’

Ruurd Jorna, Senior Sourcing Consultant at Brunel

According to the Netherlands Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Association (NOGEPA), the Dutch oil and gas sector accounts for 16,500 jobs. Many of them are in the TopDutch region. Ruurd Jorna sees opportunities for employees in that sector through the energy transition from fossil to sustainable. ‘The TopDutch region has a high concentration of chemical companies, which are linked together as a single chain. A relatively large number of people work for energy giants such as Gasunie and NAM.

As these professionals associated with gas production will be entering the labor market in the future, we see opportunities to bring them into the chemical cluster after further training or retraining them, within the hydrogen-focused energy economy or the sustainable chemical industry, for instance. The energy transition in this region therefore also certainly offers opportunities for the labor market of the future,’ says Ruurd Jorna.

Networks and facilities

Student numbers Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen:

  • BSc Chemistry: Approximately 250 enrolled students. An average of approximately 80 first year students
  • BSc Chemical Engineering: Approximately 220 enrolled students enrolled, an average of approximately 75 first year students
  • MSc Chemistry: Approximately 100 enrolled students. An average of approximately 30 to 35 first year students
  • MSc Chemical Engineering: Approximately 100 enrolled students. An average of approximately 30 to 35 first year students

Source: University of Groningen 2019, averages for 2016-2018.

What does IWCN do?
The International Welcome Center North is a one-stop shop for international living in the Netherlands’ provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe. IWCN offers these projects for expats wishing to settle in the Netherlands:

  • Supporting expats with the registration process: IWCN supports employers and foreign employees in reducing the burden of official governmental matters as much as possible.
  • Start-Up Permit Residence: this permit allows talented entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Northern Netherlands’ excellent business environment and exceptionally high standard of living.
  • Orientation Year Permit: talented, highly-educated foreign nationals can apply for this residence permit within three years of earning a Bachelor, Master, Postdoc or PhD degree or finishing a research project. This permit is valid for one year during which the permit holder is allowed to work without any restrictions.

Regional networks and facilities connecting science and business


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