Brain drain or investment in human capital?
This migration trend among educated, well trained and highly skilled professionals is commonly referred to as brain drain.
There is a general tendency for people to migrate in search of seemingly greener pastures. Migration can occur within a given country as in the pattern of rural exodus to areas where there are greater opportunities for education and employment. There is also the movement across national and geographical boundaries when people leave their homelands in pursuit of their dreams or to escape harsh living conditions.
A UN report on international migration in 2020 stated that “the growth in the number of international migrants has been robust over the past two decades, reaching 281 million people living outside their country of origin in 2020” . The spirit of migration is not limited to people of lower social or economic status trying to make something of their lives. Various publications have confirmed that it is common to see well-trained and highly skilled professionals engage in exodus to lands with greater opportunities.
This migration trend among educated, well trained and highly skilled professionals is commonly referred to as brain drain. The term is used in various disciplines of study, such as arts and education, social sciences, applied sciences, economics, business and management, social psychology, and anthropology. Used very lucidly, brain drain refers to the movement of skilled professionals from their home countries to other regions in search of benefits such as a better standard of living, better quality of life, higher salaries or better access to advanced technologies. .
In addition to this search for greater economic benefits, the migration brain drain can also be motivated by social or political unrest in the territories of origin; cultural or religious intolerance; or even natural disasters, health epidemics or other social or environmental challenges.
The impacts of migration generally pose several challenges to locations on either side of the displacement belt. In the country of destination, there are problems such as overcrowding, high incidence of underemployment, increased pressure on social amenities and support services such as health care, education, housing, travel, security and access to recreational facilities. This increased demand for the obviously limited resources resulting from the high volume of traffic and sometimes mass migration can lead to urban decay and a breakdown of municipal order. Likewise, in the country of origin, there are significant problems and challenges arising from the migratory brain drain. Key consequences include loss of vital human capital resources, diminished statutory tax revenue, limited opportunities for growth and investment, demographic depletion, and loss of expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship. A recent Harvard Business Review Journal noted that “brain drain can result in a particularly pernicious drag on the source country’s talent pool.” Moreover, the reality of brain drain can be very disruptive and chaotic, and usually leads to instability and uncertainty in various vital sectors of society. It is also a costly and very time-consuming situation to reassign and realign key personnel to various positions that have become vacant as a result of a migration. Another consequence of the migration trend is the dislocation of the family structure when one or both parents go to work and the children are left behind, perhaps with relatives. The absence of parents, especially during the early years of a child’s development, can be devastating for the key or barrel child. There are myriad other negative consequences of brain drain, as various research publications and secular authorities have established on the subject.
Despite the challenges and problems associated with the brain drain experience, there are significant benefits to be realized on either side of the migration spectrum. The country of destination benefits from the manna of qualified and trained personnel with a minimum expenditure in the cost associated with the education production system. There is the importation of new cultures and experiences and the possibility of broadening the base of consumer income. Likewise, there are potential benefits to be realized in the regions of origin. Among the benefits established in the literature are economic opportunities arising from increased remittances to family members; the possibilities of incentives to increase education production systems; the creation of a diaspora whose close ties to the homeland can stimulate demand for local products, thereby increasing the potential for investment and trade; creating vacancies for new applicants; and reducing demand for limited employment opportunities. A recent report indicates that more than a third of qualified professionals are unable to find suitable employment in their field of study or are underemployed in relation to their training and qualifications.
Given the identifiable benefits of migratory brain drain and the fact that destination regions invariably welcome and encourage the movement of trained and qualified professionals to their field, there might be a need to rethink the classification of brain drain. There could be an opportunity for investment in the human capital resource. The term human capital refers to the collective skills, knowledge and expertise of people. Human capital develops through training, education and experience. An investment in human capital can be made at the personal, organizational or national level. Such investment in human capital should result in a larger pool of skilled professionals. How can investment in human capital be used to counter the ebb of the brain drain?
An ideal approach to the issue is to use the comparative advantage associated with local training institutions. This comparative advantage is evidenced by the fact that recruiters from seemingly developed countries continue to prey on developing countries with the aim of attracting and employing various categories of workers. These recruited workers, which include skilled and skilled professionals, are generally paid at lower rates than those paid to nationals of host countries. Despite this, locals are willing to move towards what is considered a better option than what is available in their home country. In order to capitalize on this comparative advantage, training institutions should conduct adequate research to determine the workforce needs in the countries where our trained professionals are likely to move, and the types of career fields that are highly required in these areas. Using this data, local training institutions could determine the extent to which they offer these areas of study, making necessary adjustments to their study programs as needed.
Special funding arrangements could be established through fellowships, joint ventures and other strategic alliances with overseas recruiting organizations. The recruiting organizations or the host countries could thus support the progress of education in the developing countries. There is an ever-increasing demand for funding and technical support in local educational production systems. Then, as batches of students are trained in identifiable career fields, some may be bound to work locally for a period of time. Others who may have accessed scholarships and other special funding and assistance programs sponsored by recruitment agencies and organizations would be permitted to enroll in a controlled overseas recruitment program upon completion. of their studies or after having served their obligations locally. Over time, with proper regulation and coordination, there would be a point of optimality between those retained in local employment and those allowed to go abroad under a controlled recruitment program. Hence, a possible formula for a viable human capital investment program with tangible and meaningful returns on investment.
It is true that not all career fields can be initially classified in the identifiable field. Moreover, with or without this regulated and controlled human capital investment program, some who are forced to work locally will find ways to sever their ties and walk away on their own initiative. How often do we decry the exodus of our qualified personnel in areas such as security, nursing, teachers, accounting or medicine, with some leaving for the duration of their duties. However, their numbers can be reduced if, with adequate compensation, their desire for overseas employment can be tamed. Of course, there are some who have no desire to migrate in the first place.
It is therefore not surprising that a 2008 study by the United Nations University suggested that “the so-called brain drain of migrants taking their skills and initiatives to new countries of residence may also serve as a driver of growth in their country of origin”. Similarly, a 2012 press release from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) proposed a new international support mechanism aimed at enabling highly skilled professionals from developing countries currently living and working in the diaspora to contribute to the transfer of specialized knowledge and to channel investments towards their countries of origin. It remains to be seen what progress has been made with this proposal. In any case, however, it is clear that the problems associated with the brain drain must be re-examined with a view to counterbalancing this apparently negative phenomenon with a dynamic, controlled and regulated human capital investment opportunity.
Courtney Garrick, PhD, is a senior lecturer in the School of Business Administration at the Jamaica University of Technology. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or to [email protected]