What does it mean to make it in the north? This is one in a series of portraits of local people, organisations, and companies working to further internationalise Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. In this instalment, we meet Margriet Bouma and Leo van der Burg, both of whom work in the world of business interest groups, companies and labour unions and whose organisations have been at the forefront of the internationalisation in the North for a long time.
By Morten Pedersen
Out near the brand new training facilities of the football team FC Groningen, we find the offices of both FME and Metaalunie. Two large organisations that have thousands of companies and workers connected to them, and represent both workers and business leaders. They are both partners with the Make it in the North project, and the wider internationalisation of the Northern Dutch economy.
What do you, respectively, do here in the northern regions?
Leo van der Brug: The FME works on business development, and helping to foster innovation. The Northern Netherlands has a big focus on smart industry and the digitalisation of the industrial process- and we’re working with the Metaalunie on developing new industries in the region. My main focus is the maritime industry- we have a lot of very highly skilled ship-builders, as well as companies and people that work across the maritime sector.
Margriet Bouma: As the Metaalunie, we stimulate our members to take innovative approached to their business challenges- and we provide education within the companies to help this. Important topics for us include smart industry in general, and more specific initiative such as smart welding, and so on. Automation, digitalisation, and how to provide the highly-skilled workers needed to drive these developments are big questions for us. How can we keep these people in our companies? And how can we attract more of them? Another area of focus for us is how we can strengthen the exporting side of our members’ businesses.
What drew you to Make it in the North?
LvdB: When I was approached with the idea of the Make it in the North platform, it was very easy to say yes. The internalisation of the North is really a puzzle we need to solve. With so many companies worrying about the future, we’ve had quite a few questions like “do we have enough skilled employees in the future?”, and “can I find enough specialised and technically capable employees?”. These have especially come from the small and medium sized businesses that don’t necessarily have a close contact with the universities, and so don’t stand first in line for graduates with the right skill-set.
MB: Our organisation had been visiting a lot of different companies to make an overview of the needs of our members, and we had concluded much the same: the companies are worried for the future, especially with the coming of widespread digitalisation and technological development. We’ve also been asked whether we could help with solving the problem of keeping enough skilled employees in the companies. So, when we found out about the platform, it was clear that we could contribute and make use of it. We try and stimulate our members to actively go and use the platform: that is our main task. And we also advise on what type of content there should be, to help both our member companies, and companies like them that are not in the metal sector. One tool that we’re very excited about is the ‘living’ export map, where companies can get an overview of who else is exporting, to where, and thus hopefully work with each other to make market entry easier for everyone.
In that respect, what is it that your members will benefit from greater internationalisation in the North?
MB: You get employees that think outside of the box. They see things in another perspective, they have a different context and all of that it can contribute for the company. The Make it in the North platform might also help companies with overcoming the difficulties that are also posed by being more international: any language barriers, different working cultures, getting work-visa and resident permits, and so on.
LvdB: We are also aiming to get members to use the export mapping on the platform. It is a strong tool, which might get more people into the webpage, and then we hope that they will also contribute to the other services Make it in the North offers, like linking contacts with universities and research projects, sharing knowledge, and making International people feel at home here.
MB: Yes it will give them an easy way to get a bigger cross-regional and international network, that will help them find the right people for their company, and thus help their business grow!
Morten Pedersen is a facilitator working on the Make it in the North project with the IWCN.