People power

Global cities are built on the pool of their talent, and the race is on to recruit the best

If a city’s arteries are its roads, then its people are its lifeblood – the energy that powers its growth and development. Human capital is what makes a city great.

“Talent attractiveness is becoming the true currency by which countries, regions and cities compete with each other,” explains Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director for Global Indices at INSEAD business school and co-author of the 2013 Global Talent Competitiveness Index.

Dubai compares favourably in many ways to New York and Hong Kong based on accessibility in terms of lifestyle and probably compares to places like Sydney in terms of available space and the outdoor living

“You can build nice buildings and airports and make nice lifestyles overnight but to get culture and history, that takes longer,” he said. “You need something in between – talent. If you recruit the right people to your city, they will be successful, and that success will drive your city.”

So how do you become a global city that can attract the best talent? Places such as London, New York, Paris and Sydney are global brands, and they are on nearly everyone’s wish list both for visiting and living. Companies and governments in these cities, and others such as Tokyo, Toronto and Hong Kong, have no trouble hiring the best people. They can because they can offer the full package: global headquarters, good salaries, culture, the history, restaurants, lifestyle and, most importantly, the brand. They are the cities you want on your CV.

Dubai Knowledge Village
Dubai Knowledge Village helps to drive economic growth by training the workforce

Accordingly, they rank at the top of the A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Madrid. But a new generation of cities is emerging as potential leaders in the field: Singapore, Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai and Buenos Aires, to name just a few. These cities are becoming increasingly competitive in attracting the best human capital.

In just a few decades, tiny Singapore has enjoyed miracle growth, and has emerged as a true global player, boasting a diversified and hi-tech economy and one of the world’s highest standards of living. It ranked third out of 60 economies in the 2014 World Competitiveness Yearbook by Swiss business school IMD thanks to its business-friendly environment, efficient government policy and strong innovation performance. Hischam El-Agamy, Executive Director at IMD, says a large part of Singapore’s success was down to strong government policies and how those policies complemented the private sector.

The UAE was ranked eighth by the IMD study, a position attributed to its low unemployment, efficient government and strong social cohesion. El-Agamy says: “Dubai has a lot of ingredients that are creating the Manhattan of the Middle East. The infrastructure is one of the best in the world.” And he adds: “Dubai is amazing in the number of nationalities it has living and working in harmony. I don’t think many places can compare.”

Matthew Gribble, Middle East and Africa Senior Managing Director of global recruitment firm PageGroup, says the city offers a combination of the “excitement factor” sought after by younger professionals who want a good lifestyle and a fast career track, but it also increasingly appeals to people in their thirties and forties thinking about longer-term job progression and family life.

“That’s one of the real attractions about somewhere like Dubai: you see a lot of people relocating here because it’s a great city to live in from a family point of view. There’s great healthcare and education, and salaries and career opportunities are also attractive,” he says. “Dubai compares favourably in many ways to New York and Hong Kong based on accessibility in terms of lifestyle and probably compares to places like Sydney in terms of available space and the outdoor living,” he adds.

Lanvin says for a city to become truly global, innovation is key. “A city needs to innovate to make its mark and be recognised as a place where things happen that are not happening elsewhere,” he said. “And to attract innovation, you have to attract innovators, but innovators are not drawn by money or quality of lifestyle, they are attracted by other innovators.”

He describes it as a “virtuous circle”, which he admits is very difficult to start, but, giving Singapore as an example, he adds: “Once you create critical mass of innovation, then the word of mouth starts to spread.”