What does it mean to make it in the north? This is the first in a series of portraits of local people, organisations, and companies working to further internationalise Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. In this first instalment, we meet Michiel Kasteleijn, one of the main architects behind a soon-to-launch jobs and resource platform, Make it in the North.
By Morten Pedersen / Photo by Traci White
We meet Michiel Kasteleijn outside of his office at the International Welcome Center North (IWCN) in Groningen, surrounded by buzzing conversations and the smell of coffee. This is where Kasteleijn, along with his team, are coordinating the coming of Make it in the North, a huge internationalisation project that will be launching soon – the project will have a sneak preview on the 25th of March.
Kasteleijn did a little bit of everything before ending up in his current job at the IWCN. He started working in his father’s restaurant at the age of 12, moved on to hospitality at the Drents Museum and a restaurant in Assen, and then he and a friends started their own company selling wind turbines in the northern provinces. After that, he worked as a specialist in crisis management with the Groningen fire department, and then finally found his place in the municipality of Groningen’s Economic Affairs department.
International Welcome Center North
In 2014, he was asked to be the Business Manager at what would become the IWCN. One of their first initiatives was to hold a session to see if business would support an Expat Centre in Groningen, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Since then, the IWCN has been run by Kasteleijn, Karen Prowse (who, aside from having a scientific research background, is also responsible for the largest expat foundation in the region: Connect International), and Maartje de Jonge (who has a background in international trade).
Kasteleijn’s diverse professional background has helped him to build an equally varied network in the northern provinces. His current position puts him in touch with companies, labour organisations, start-ups and their facilitators and local governments municipalities on a daily basis. But he sees hospitality as the common thread throughout his career. “You want to give hospitality to all the people and organisations you’re working for. So, in the end, when I found out that there’s this large group of internationals that is not being engaged in a hospitable way, I thought ‘this is where I need to be’”
There are expat centres across the Netherlands, and one of their main goals is to roll out the red carpet for both international talent (expats) and companies that are already in the region or coming to the region. IWCN describes itself as a one-stop shop where everyone can be connected and get set up for living in the north, including social events and language groups.
Kasteleijn says that the IWCN hopes to help newcomers really get into “the veins of the region”, but he and his colleagues are very aware that the way to ensure that talented internationals stick around longer is finding work. “We need to think of where they can find a job when they have no network or don’t speak the language. The northern Netherlands is full of companies for whom this is actually a benefit, not a hindrance, but how do they find these talented people?”
Make it in the North
Kasteleijn believes that this is where Make it in the North comes in. The site is free and is the first portal specifically tailored to the thousands of internationals living in the northern Netherlands. One of Make it in the North’s major aims is to fill the gap between companies and internationals in the north: current job websites do not work very well for non-Dutch citizens, because the few internationally-oriented portals out there primarily feature unskilled jobs and are based in the west and south of the country. Make it in the North will serve as a portal where companies can post vacancies and internationals can connect with them, amongst other functions. The platform will also feature networking and social events, a cultural directory and a feed from The Northern Times.
The team behind the platform wants it to serve not only future employees, but also northern businesses with ambitions beyond the region. Kasteleijn gives an example: “Maybe you are a company in Emmen who would like to export to Brazil, but you don’t fully understand the complexity of this or have insights into this new market. On Make it in the North, you will be able to search for other locally based companies that are exporting to Brazil, get in touch with them and learn how to do it properly.”
|Making it in the North is a series of profiles of companies, projects and individuals across the region connected to the northern Dutch economy. This series is in affiliation with the Make it in the North Platform.
Morten Pedersen is a facilitator working on the Make it in the North site. The IWCN is one of The Northern Times’ founding partners.