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Strengthening the onboarding process for international employees at the University of Agder

Onboarding is a vital part of a new international employee’s introduction to the University of Agder (UiA). Every phase of the onboarding process is important, from before moving to Norway, through the first month, to the successful completion of the induction period at the university.

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The participants at the onboarding workshop (from left to right): Tim A. Majchrzak, Charlie Emil Krautwald, Allan T. Folkestad (project group), Malin S. Hauge (project manager), Tonje Sti (project group), Inger-Lise Myrvold (project group), Anna Alon, Gibran Alberto Cruz-Martinez, Narayan Ranjan Chakraborty, Hossein Baharmand, Stephen Darren Dougherty.

The participants at the onboarding workshop (from left to right): Tim A. Majchrzak, Charlie Emil Krautwald, Allan T. Folkestad (project group), Malin S. Hauge (project manager), Tonje Sti (project group), Inger-Lise Myrvold (project group), Anna Alon, Gibran Alberto Cruz-Martinez, Narayan Ranjan Chakraborty, Hossein Baharmand, Stephen Darren Dougherty. Allison Louise Wetterlin and Mihoko Sakurai attended the workshop but are not in the picture. (Photo: Amina Loukili Kristensen).

Nine academics representing Japan, the United States, Puerto Rico, Bangladesh, Iran, Germany and Denmark attended a workshop as part of UIA’s strategic focus area Global Mindset to share with the UiAs staff their views on how to make the onboarding process better for new international hires.

A project group working with different onboarding measures

The workshop is initiated by a project group that works on both short-term and long-term onboarding strategies. In the short-term, the project group will deliver soon updated information webpages in English targeting international staff as well as useful checklists that provide a step-by-step guidance to international employees.

In addition, the project group prepares a holistic welcoming package that facilitates the integration of international hires and provides support and advice on how to acclimate faster to life at the University of Agder.

Recruiting first-rate faculty and staff is a top priority for UiA. In support of that goal, the group will in the long run focus on matters like a dual career programme that offers job search information and assistance to dual career spouses or partners. The group will also focus on establishing measures that raise cultural awareness and foster diversity.

The project group will help in organizing events during the academic year to facilitate networking among international staff. This will enhance the UiA experience and provide enjoyable settings for students, staff and faculty to connect.

Need for English information through UiA’s websites

Many of the participants expressed the need for information in English before arrival to Norway. They said that they receive good assistance from the Human Resources staff and colleagues upon arrival, but they would have appreciated access to information in English about matters related to the tax system, how to apply for a residency permit and establish a bank account through UiA’s English websites.

 “We came to Norway as a family with children. Having access to information about the schooling system and after-school activities (SFO) for our children is very important,” underscores Stephen Darren Dougherty, Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages and Translation.

“The toughest experience in Norway for me has been dealing with the cold weather. I come from a warm country, and I am not used to low temperatures,” says Narayan Ranjan Chakraborty, a PhD research fellow from Bangladesh at the Department of Information Systems.

The participants agree that there are different individual needs for employees during the onboarding process. They suggest that the university should provide a tailor-made programme for each international hire by establishing an ambassador programme. “Getting a contact person ideally from the same home country, Iran in my case, who has gone through the same experience could help a lot during the onboarding phase,” says Hossein Baharmand, a Phd research fellow at the Department of Information and Communication Technology.

Mihoko Sakurai, a Japanese postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Information Systems agrees with her Iranian colleague and underlines that “the most important element in the introduction phase upon arrival is to have a mentor that helps getting to know the Norwegian society better. I had no clue about Norwegian social codes and local habits when I joined the university.”

The participants in the workshop expressed the need to get more help regarding university procedures and using systems such as Fronter, sending claim expenses and understanding the grading system. In addition, they would like to have career services at the university for international staff and advice on funding opportunities.

Work-life balance, high trust level and freedom for children

All participants were very delighted by the positive sides that life in Norway offers.

“Kids have so much freedom in Norway. They can play outside and climb in the trees. They are even offered knives they can play with. Such thing would have never been allowed in the United States. It is so positive to experience so much freedom that we don’t even fear the police here,” says Stephen laughing.

International staff appreciate the work-life balance, the good labour conditions compared to other countries and the high trust level existing between citizens and public authorities. “I was very much surprised by the friendliness of public authorities. When I tried to call the welfare organisation NAV to get some information, they contacted me back two days later apologizing for not having called earlier. The level of trust between people and the public sector is very high in Norway. In Germany, the public services will try to complicate one’s life rather than providing help with matters one is struggling with,” says Tim A. Majchrzak, associate professor at the Department of Information Systems.

Participants are looking forward to experiencing the new Global Hub which they hope will function as an international centre where they can meet peers and be part of a larger social network. “It would be wonderful to establish a meeting point that allows international staff and locals to find information and exchange ideas around a cup of coffee,” underscores Gibran Alberto Cruz-Martinez, a postdoctoral fellow from Puerto Rico at the Department of Global Development and Planning.

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