Going Dutch

Might Amsterdam be the ideal place for HR professionals to take their career to the next level? Renowned more for its canals than its corporate opportunities, the picturesque Dutch capital is nonetheless attracting a growing reputation as a global business hub.

This is particularly the case since the Brexit vote last June, which has prompted a number of UK companies to set their sights elsewhere. Many of these are financial services firms, which will no longer be able to sell their products freely across the European single market once Britain exits the EU. For some such companies, moving operations out of London seems the only way to safeguard their business.

At this stage it is not clear how many UK jobs stand to be relocated, with estimates ranging from a conservative 4,000 to an astonishing 232,000. What is clear is that we are entering a period of widespread organisational restructuring, in which strong change management skills will prove key to a company’s success.

Among the many European cities vying to attract UK businesses, Amsterdam has emerged as a serious contender. A New York Times article, written shortly after the Brexit vote, cited Amsterdam as the single most promising ‘replacement for London’, taking into account factors ranging from the regulatory environment to the restaurants. And while Amsterdam has shied away from marketing itself overtly, officials are in talks with several dozen London firms.

It seems likely, then, that the composition of the city’s workforce will be shaken up in the next few years. With a number of major businesses already expanding their Dutch workforce – not least the Japanese bank MUFG, which has brought in personnel from London – there will be clear opportunities from an HR point of view.

So what are the advantages of relocating? And, cheese and clogs aside, what can an HR professional expect from Amsterdam if they do make the move?

Moving to the Netherlands

The city is certainly well equipped to help expats feel at home. Dutch society prides itself upon being inclusive and internationally oriented, harking back to the country’s seafaring heritage. What’s more, over 90% of the population speak English, often with near-native fluency.

It is no surprise that the Netherlands lures its share of foreign workers. There are estimated to be are around 500,000 internationals living and working here – a high figure for a small country with a population of just 17.1 million – and their numbers are growing fast. Last year, the population expanded by 111,000 people, substantially higher than expected and dwarfing the population growth the year before.

It helps that relocation to Amsterdam is relatively straightforward. Those with EU passports have an automatic right to live and work in the country, and that group includes Brits for the time being. On top of that, the Netherlands has one of Europe’s lowest rates of employment, and its well-known 30% tax ruling gives a tax advantage to highly skilled migrants moving here for a specific role.

Although it’s not yet possible to say how the Brexit negotiations will pan out, the UK Brexit minister has stated that UK nationals’ rights in the Netherlands are a top priority. There are 15,000 Brits living in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, and those 15,000 Brits are 15,000 Amsterdammers, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said in a speech last year.

Even in the most challenging scenario, in which Brits are stripped of all EU affiliation, they will still have the same rights as non-EU citizens. Options might include working for an international company (where the company applies for their residence permit), working as a highly skilled migrant, or applying for a European blue card.

Living in Amsterdam

While other European cities may have the edge when it comes to salary size, Amsterdam is undoubtedly leagues ahead in terms of atmosphere. The city is not only stunning to look at (witness the distinctive architecture, the ubiquitous canals, and the tulip fields ringing its outskirts) – it is vibrant to the nth degree. There are many cultural options, with a strong music scene and a buzzing nightlife, and, as befits its cosmopolitan outlook, cuisine from every part of the world.

The Netherlands consistently scores high on quality of life indexes, ranking in the top 5 in the EU on almost all metrics. The nation is conspicuously civic-minded and unconcerned with markers of status – crime rates and homelessness are low, and there are many good international schools.

From an expat’s perspective, Dutch culture can seem full of contradictions, in that their liberal-mindedness is counterbalanced by an emphasis on rules. As a highly law abiding society, they can tend towards the bureaucratic, which may give HR professionals an extra layer of red tape to grapple with.

Then there is the famous Dutch directness – a lack of concern for niceties that Brits, in particular, may read as rude. Don’t misinterpret their intent; the Dutch are generally very friendly, and keen to help expats acclimatise.

Where are the biggest opportunities?

It seems likely that most of the big banks will avoid the Netherlands, as there are stringent caps on bankers’ bonuses (just 20% of annual salary, compared to 100% of annual salary elsewhere in the EU). However, certain financial sectors, such as clearing houses and fintech, are already strong in Amsterdam and are likely to attract further business as UK companies relocate.

The city is also cementing its status as an emerging technology hub, with the likes of Tesla, Netflix and Uber basing their European operations here. A 2015 Forbes article went so far as to call Amsterdam an ‘alternative to Silicon Valley’.  Biosciences and medicine are strong too, and Amsterdam is one of the cities in contention to host the European Medicines Agency after it relocates from London.

Another factor in Amsterdam’s favour is the convenience of the location. Just a two-hour train journey from Brussels, and well connected to the rest of Europe, the city is far better positioned for international companies than other leading cities such as Dublin.

Whatever happens during the Brexit negotiations, and however that impacts on UK firms, a move to Amsterdam could work out to be a savvy career decision. Where businesses go, HR opportunities will follow, and in the uncertain times we’re living in, that’s more the case than ever.

This article was ghostwritten for Frazer Jones. Their edited version appears here 

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