Global Understanding

A team of undergrads traveled this summer to Norway to study the recruitment of skilled workers—and learned invaluable career and life skills of their own in the process.

Students in Oslo

Students Ben Todd, Matthew Cook, Jaylyn Johnson, and Scott Basford outside Fafo, the Institute for Labor and Social Research in Oslo

The day after his graduation from UT, Ben Todd took a seat on an airplane and flew across the Atlantic to spend sixteen days in Oslo, Norway.

“I think that was the most amazing way to round out my undergraduate career,” says Todd, who graduated in May with a degree in global studies, with minors in geography and environmental studies. “It was the perfect capstone to the best years of my life, all of which I owe to the university.”

Todd was a member of an undergraduate research team led by Micheline van Riemsdijk, assistant professor of geography, to conduct fieldwork research on the recruitment of foreign-born engineers to the oil and gas industry in Norway. The trip was funded by a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates grant. The trip was part of an overall research project led by van Riemsdijk to investigate the governance of international skilled migration at international, national, and local scales, focusing on the oil and gas industry and the information technology sector.

The students interviewed a variety of skilled workers about their reasons for coming to work in Norway and staying there. The team found that not as many foreign skilled migrants come to work in Norway’s oil industry as they had originally thought. The team learned of common hurdles for the skilled workers to live and work in Norway, including the high cost of living, differing language preferences between employers and employees, and misconceptions about Norway. Todd says that due to language differences, migrants tend to find themselves socially isolated, but the Norwegian government is working to change misconceptions by re-evaluating their policies.

“Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (funded from oil profits) has the country well-positioned to weather another global financial crisis should one happen,” Todd says. “This massive fund constitutes 1 percent of the world’s stocks and is managed for the Norwegian people by the government. It’s a huge social safety net.”

Competing for talented professionals around the globe is a challenge that Oslo is facing head-on, says Todd. “Oslo is trying to internationalize to attract more people to Norway and increase its attractiveness. They’re having a difficult time branding the city, as Stockholm has billed itself as ‘the capital of Scandinavia.’”

With the findings from the Oslo trip in hand, van Riemsdijk says the overall research project will provide insight into the governance of migration and offer new theoretical understanding—including the possible emergence of new forms of governance.

“The findings of the project will enhance understanding of the processes of international skilled migration, particularly the operation of global talent recruitment,” says van Riemsdijk. “Thus, this study will inform policy debates about competitiveness and innovation in the global knowledge economy.”

Having spent more than two weeks living in Oslo, Todd says the city’s challenges—especially the high cost of living—pale in comparison to its attractive qualities, including the prevalence of English among citizens and, as Todd says, “how trusting and nice everyone was.”

“It’s a very culturally cohesive society,” he says. “Sure, you see people begging on the streets and crime does happen. But for the most part, everyone was at an equal level in society. Everyone rode public transport, recycled, exercised, ate well.”

Conducting research abroad while immersing themselves in a foreign culture was invaluable to the students in their education and growth as global citizens.

“I can’t get enough of traveling, experiencing new cultures and places, and learning more about myself in the process,” Todd says. “I grow much more as a person when I’m abroad.”

Learn more about the research project.