Which Countries Best Attract Biz Talent? Which Don’t?

For the fifth year in a row, IMD has found Switzerland to be the most attractive place for business talent, and the best at retaining it. IMD photo

Which country is best at developing, attracting, and retaining business talent? According to one Swiss business school, the answer is … Switzerland.

Every year since 2014, IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland conducts a worldwide survey that assesses dozens of countries’ ability to “capture the resources invested in developing local talent, the extent to which a country attracts and retains talent, and the quality of skills available in the talent pool” — in short, to “sustain the pool that enterprises employ to create long-term value,” according to an IMD news release. They use hard data and responses to an Executive Opinion Survey to produce the ranking, polling more than 6,000 executives based in 63 different economies to measure a nation’s Investment and Development, Appeal, and Readiness.

While Switzerland has taken the top spot in the ranking every year for five years, please suspend your snark: It’s a conclusion that the data supports. The land-locked, mountainous European nation best known for banking, clocks, and conflict neutrality ranks fourth in Investment and Development and first in both Appeal and Readiness. In all three measurements, Switzerland “confirms,” to use IMD’s phrase, “its role as an important global talent hub.”


Arturo Bris. IMD photo

IMD’s three metrics include indicators that capture the resources invested in developing local talent, the extent to which a country attracts and retains talent, and the quality of skills available in the talent pool. “Since 2014, the Talent Ranking assesses how the 63 economies we study develop, attract, and retain highly-skilled professionals,” says Arturo Bris, director of the World Competitiveness Center at IMD, which conducts the ranking. “Cultivating a skilled and educated workforce is crucial to strengthening competitiveness and achieving long-term prosperity, particularly in the current dynamic landscape where artificial intelligence, robotics, and other new technologies constantly redefine the challenges that governments, businesses, and society in general will have to face in the future.”

While Switzerland took first place once again in the 2018 ranking, Denmark was second for the fifth year in a row. What makes life among the Danes so great For the third consecutive year, Denmark ranks first in Investment and Development and the country improves three places in the Appeal factor, in which it ranks seventh. However, Denmark drops four places in the Readiness factor to eighth. Some shakeups did occur elsewhere. Norway vaulted from seventh to third largely on the strength an improvement in public expenditure on education and the readiness of its talent pool, and while Austria maintained its hold on fourth for the second straight year, the Netherlands inched up one spot to fifth. Canada (sixth), Finland (seventh), Sweden (eighth), Luxembourg (ninth), and Germany (10th) complete the top 10.

Several European countries fall within the 25 most competitive with respect to talent, according to IMD, including Belgium (11th), Cyprus (15th), Portugal (17th), Ireland (21st), United Kingdom (23rd), and France (25th). Canada, the only non-European country in the top 10, rose from 11th place, lifted by an improvement in the quality of its talent pool. The United States (12th) moves up four places from last year thanks to advancements in all three talent factors.

“This year the most successful countries in talent competitiveness are mainly European, mid-size economies,” Bris concludes. “Moreover, these countries share high levels of investment in education and quality of life.”


Meanwhile, with the exception of Estonia (28th), Slovenia (30th), and Latvia (33rd), Eastern European countries generally place in the lower part of the ranking. For instance, Slovak Republic (59th), Bulgaria (57th), and Romania (56th) underperform in attracting highly skilled workers from abroad and they also face problems in retaining their locally-grown talent. 

At the bottom of the ranking are Colombia (60th), Mexico (61st), Mongolia (62nd), and Venezuela (63rd). “These economies are struggling to develop and retain talent,” IMD notes, and along with Brazil (58th), “all share issues related to brain drain, matched by a relatively low level of investment in education.”

No Asian countries cracked the top 10, but Singapore (13th), Hong Kong SAR (18th), and Malaysia (22nd) achieve the best placements in the region in terms of talent competitiveness. “While the two city-states continue to excel in tapping into the international talent pool, Malaysia instead focuses on investments in education to develop its homegrown skilled workforce,” IMD says. “Taiwan (27th) prioritizes the attraction and retention of talent, Japan improves (29th) due to the availability of skilled labor and the effectiveness of its education system, and South Korea advances (33rd) partly due to increased government expenditure on education and improvements in the implementation of apprenticeships programs and employee training.”

Asia’s biggest economy, China (39th), places in the lower half of the ranking because of its difficulties in attracting foreign skilled workers coupled with a below-average (compared to other advanced economies) level of public expenditure in education. Kazakhstan (40th) and Thailand (42nd) also fall in the second half of the ranking, in part because of their performance in the readiness of domestic talent. In the Pacific area, Australia (14th) and New Zealand (20th) confirm their role as “talent-appealing hubs,” with both showing high levels of readiness in their talent pool and offering attractive quality of life for international professionals.

See the complete IMD Talent Factor Rankings of 63 countries on Page 2.

Source: IMD

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