While the labour market of the European Union is unable to meet its demand for specialists, the EU is looking for ways to fill the vacancies in businesses. The Digital Explorers, a Lithuanian-led a pilot program on legal migration pathways with Nigeria, may have found a way to close the gap.
The European Union is facing a shortage of specialists. The reality of demographic characteristics and the labour market dictate that legal migration of talents to the EU is an inevitable need. Still, current pathways of specialist migration are not up to par. Thus, the EU is seeking new ways to connect European companies with foreign labour markets, brimming with young, talented job-seekers, and launched a slew of pilot projects to test the waters. Quite unexpectedly for many, Lithuania was the first to join the initiative and its Digital Explorers became one of the most successful in delivering tangible results.
The main goal of the Digital Explorers—contracted by ICMPD on behalf of the European Commission—was filling vacancies in Lithuanian technology companies with Nigerian ICT talent; consequently, it explored models of international collaboration between business and governments, with a non-governmental organisation as an intermediary. In the light of limited previous engagement between Lithuania and African countries, it has truly been a ground-breaking experience, both participants and partners agree.
While the current European mobility tool for professionals, the Blue Card Initiative, provides a simplified set of legal migration requirements for highly skilled workers from non-EU countries, the numbers of attracted talents are low. A recent revision of the Initiative aims to address this by expanding access to the framework for more qualified young specialists, yet amending the regulation might not be enough. A significant bottleneck is real and perceived risks for the private sector related to hiring talent from outside the EU.
“Pathways of legal migration for young specialists into the Union can solve multiple problems, including the shortage of talents in the EU, the lack of opportunities for young specialists in non-EU countries, and address the unknowns faced by the private sector. They could also help building mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries on overall migration management. We are looking for ways to facilitate the process together with EU member states, in line with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum” says Magdalena Jagiello, Deputy Head, of the Legal Pathways and Integration Unit, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME).
A success story to build upon
Even though EU-based companies willing to hire abroad are inevitable initiators of personnel migration, mobility projects act as catalyzers by providing a missing link between participating countries as well as between business and the public sector.
“While private companies at first were sceptical that this unexpected connection can work, we spoke their language—one that is close to the heart of ICT companies. People in our team had diverse ICT and law backgrounds and firsthand knowledge of the African tech market. Therefore, we managed to address concerns of hiring companies and had answers to key questions, including recruitment and matching strategies, and potential skill level,” says Mantė Makauskaitė, project lead of Digital Explorers.
“We also had a long-term vision that the project will give us the means to build further mutually beneficial connections between Baltic and African ICT markets, and stakeholders were excited about that path forward,” she continues.
Thanks to the Digital Explorers pathway, 26 young men and women have relocated from Nigeria to Lithuania through two mobility models: 1-year employment and 6-months paid traineeship. They joined 13 companies working in ICT, engineering, fintech, and data science markets. Both sides were supported throughout the program—Nigerians went through technical and soft skills training to further enhance their career prospects, while companies were consulted on integrating internationals and diversity management practices. After the program, 18 participants were retained by Lithuanian ICT companies, while others continue their careers in Nigeria, making it a win-win initiative.
“Lithuanian ICT sector is rapidly growing and the shortage of specialists is difficult to address by depending on local talent only. We were willing to hire talents outside of the EU, but needed help at establishing contacts, aligning with prospective employees from third countries, and facilitating the paperwork,” says Vaidas Laužeckas, CEO of Metasite Data Insights.
With help from Digital Explorers, Metasite Data Insights initially welcomed one junior data scientist; after the programme, the company has hired another one. Both of the Explorers started as junior specialists in internship positions and ended up as mid-level specialists in the span of 6 months.
Another Lithuanian company that benefited from a connection to Nigeria, Telesoftas, was deeply impressed by new possibilities offered by the African IT talent market and has made a strategic decision to create a Nigerian branch and opened an office in Abuja with the aims to hire at least 30 engineers by the end of 2022 and up to 100 in 2023. “The potential offered by Nigeria is just too big to ignore. A subsidiary on the spot might act not only as our key delivery center but also as a connection, allowing Lithuanian teams to search for talents to fill their ranks and create new business opportunities” says Algirdas Stonys, CEO of Telesoftas.
A collaboration between Lithuania and Nigeria has established itself as an excellent example demonstrating the importance and mutual benefits stemming from legal migration. Drawing on lessons learned from the Digital Explorers and other projects, the EU is working towards establishing Talent Partnerships. “The Digital Explorers have demonstrated a successful way of internationally connecting business, employees, and governments, and may become an example for future cooperation. Better matching of skills from outside of the EU with labour market needs within the EU is direly needed and benefits every stakeholder in multiple ways. It would be the key aspect of Talent Partnerships that would enhance legal pathways to the EU, while engaging partner countries strategically on migration management,” Jagiello says.
According to Makauskaitė who is already exploring ways to expand Digital Explorers from Lithuanian to Baltic scale, including other African countries, such partnerships could create even more European value-added if our legal systems were more harmonized and scaling across borders would not require understanding a completely different regulation. However, for now, at least in-depth knowledge of matching the existing talent pool with business needs can be used by other European countries.
“The match might not be perfect straight away, but it’s important to know ways for perfecting it,” the leader of Digital Explorers concludes.