Consequences of talent and skill outflow | Sunday Observer

Consequences of talent and skill outflow

13 August, 2023

Talent and skill outflow, also known as “brain drain”, refers to the emigration of skilled and talented individuals from one country or region to another, often seeking better opportunities, higher salaries, improved living conditions, or a more conducive work environment.

While the phenomenon of brain drain has been prevalent for a long time, the current multi-faceted crisis in Sri Lanka has accelerated the trend, posing significant consequences for the country. The significant emigration of professionals has risen to be a critical national crisis that needs meticulous mitigation by authorities. When professionals, scientists, health care providers, entrepreneurs, and other business and management talent consistently leave the country of birth for opportunities abroad, it creates a persistent drag on the home country’s economy and blights its growth.

When skilled workers leave the country, they are not only taking knowledge and skills with them—knowledge obtained at Sri Lankan Government expense—but also their capacity to drive the innovation that feeds economic development.

The most immediate and apparent impact of brain drain on Sri Lanka is the loss of valuable human capital. Skilled professionals, including doctors, engineers, scientists, and others in technical fields, migrate to developed countries, leaving a void in critical sectors of the economy. This leads to a shortage of skilled labour and hampers both economic growth and innovation.

Skilled workers

The loss of skilled workers can have profound effects on the economic landscape of a country. The departure of skilled workers and professionals can result in a shortage of human resources in crucial sectors, leading to decreased productivity and slower economic growth.

Moreover, Sri Lanka invests heavily in educating and training these skilled individuals. Devoting resources to education can be tricky when a high percentage of intellectuals leave because suitable jobs with high salaries for their skill level are not available in the country. The free education system in the country costs billions of rupees in public funds. The loss of investment in human capital can worsen existing economic disparities and perpetuate a cycle of underdevelopment.

According to informed sources in the country’s education system, brighter students aim for overseas higher education or professions even before they sit for the GCE (Ordinary Level) examination. It is reported that most of the brainy students either seek scholarships or pursue paid education with the intention of staying in developed countries. This is a dangerous trend because the cream of the country’s education system will emigrate, leaving an enormous void in the country in the near future.

The brain drain can also have far-reaching societal consequences in the country. The departure of skilled professionals often leads to vacuums in various fields, including healthcare, education, and research, apart from the impact on the industrial and service sectors that can slow down public services. This situation can have adverse effects on essential services, with fewer experienced professionals available to cater to the needs of the population.

The departing professionals not only take their skills and talents but also their knowledge and expertise, which the country desperately requires at this crucial time.

This can heavily impact the technological infrastructure, creating a vast gap in the latest advancements, leading to an innovation deficit and reduced competitiveness in the global market.

One of the primary reasons for the brain drain in Sri Lanka is the disparity in economic opportunities. Many skilled individuals, including doctors, engineers, and IT professionals, are lured by higher salaries and better working conditions in developed countries, making the decision to leave the country more attractive.

Prevailing political instability in the country is another key reason for the sudden spike in professionals seeking employment overseas, apart from the financial gains such employment offers for the migrants.

The ongoing political conflicts can undermine confidence in the government’s ability to provide a conducive environment for professionals and skilled workers. The main reason for the political instability is the self-centered mindset of almost all politicians in the country, who fail to agree on any positive move by other political parties or the Government.

As there is a severe dearth of business and employment opportunities in Sri Lanka as compared to the situation due to the current economic downturn, most Sri Lankans are choosing to emigrate, primarily for higher pay and quality of life and freedom in societies in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia. Consequently, the incessant pursuit of these objectives is increasingly becoming a bother for the Sri Lankan skilled workers’ existence.

Is brain drain reversible? The answer is that it is not an easy task in the current context. The authorities can only slow it down by offering incentives. Although it is doubtful at this point, the Government and authorities must at least have a pragmatic plan to prioritise creating a conducive environment that encourages professionals and skilled workers. By offering the best possible incentives, the country can retain more skilled professionals and attract talent from abroad.

Tax incentives

The Government can also encourage return migration by implementing policies and initiatives to attract expatriate professionals back to the country, such as tax incentives, recognition of foreign qualifications, and career advancement opportunities. If convinced, the returnees hold the potential to help build global networks, forge further links between sending and receiving countries, and directly contribute to development efforts.

Globally, both developed and developing countries attempt to retain top talent and skilled workers in their countries in order to maintain competitiveness in rapidly advancing globalisation.

Hence, Sri Lanka must look for ways to harness the inevitable outflow and inflow of individuals in search of a variety of opportunities.

Individual companies, for their part, can take action to stem the brain drain in their ranks. It is critical to execute flawless talent management practices that attract and retain highly skilled individuals who otherwise might leave the company and the country. The Government and private sector can collaborate to create a digital ecosystem that fosters entrepreneurship and rewards work opportunities.

Embracing digital transformation can also open new opportunities for skilled professionals in Sri Lanka. In addition, providing support for startups and small businesses can encourage entrepreneurship and create an environment where skilled professionals can contribute to economic growth within the country.

One of the challenges is that Sri Lanka spends scarce resources educating doctors, engineers, and scientists in the hope that they will build growth at home, only to watch in dismay as they migrate to the West. This in turn becomes a vicious circle: home countries need talent to create opportunity, but without opportunity, talent gravitates to the bigger cities and better jobs elsewhere in the world.

Brain drain will remain a pressing concern for Sri Lanka in 2024. The country faces significant challenges in retaining its skilled workforce and overcoming the consequences of emigration.

Socially, brain drain can create a sense of loss and exacerbate inequality, while economically, it can increase dependency on ex-pat remittances and deter desperately needed foreign investment.

Talent poaching

It is important to realise that developed countries are severely engaged in talent poaching from other countries, particularly those in the South Asian region. They comprehend that “brain gain” is cheaper and convenient.

The truth is that instead of focusing on training their own populations in skill sets and educational degrees that have increasing relevance, they choose the easy way of drawing talent from other countries. Currently, most of them are eyeing vital sectors such as computer science, data analysis, financial management, engineering, and medical research.

To tackle brain drain effectively, Sri Lanka must prioritise economic growth, invest in research and development, enhance education and healthcare systems, strengthen entrepreneurs, and embrace digital transformation.

Only through comprehensive and strategic efforts can Sri Lanka address the brain drain and build a sustainable future for its citizens.