brain-drained economies look to win back talent

May 4, 2016 Trent Short

What do India, Canada and China have in common when it comes to competition for talent? They all want their highly skilled people back. If they get their wish, here’s how you can leverage the “reverse brain drain.”

For decades, these countries have been a source of highly skilled workers who found opportunities abroad, often after studying in universities overseas. With many opportunities in Europe, the US and elsewhere in high-demand sectors such as technology, they immigrated to new countries, taking their knowledge and experience with them. Even countries such as Germany and France — which saw many of their talented developers and engineers migrate to Silicon Valley — are making a concerted effort to draw talent back. With many home markets developing their own hi-tech sectors, they are competing with the likes of Silicon Valley for their home-grown talent.

What’s driving this reversal of fortunes? As markets mature, they need more skilled workers to advance their development. According to Foreign Affairs magazine, Europe’s digital sector will be short of 900,000 professionals by 2020. In Germany, it will need to find an additional one million STEM professionals, and the European Union (EU) is taking steps to attract STEM workers back to the region. Throughout the EU, investments in STEM infrastructure such as university research facilities have helped it surpass the US as a desirable place to conduct research and create innovation. As a result, more Europeans are flocking back to the continent to further their careers.

While great talent might have been attracted to a few global hubs just a few years ago, today they know opportunities could be just around the corner. As this movement gains momentum, the scarce talent you seek may become more available with local talent deciding to stay put and expats heading home.

Elsewhere in Europe, Ireland has demonstrated the effectiveness of reversing the course. With GDP growth at 6%, Ireland has tapped its expats over the years through campaigns such as Global Irish to help innovate and promote entrepreneurship in the nation of six million.

You might be surprised to learn that even France is getting into the act. In 2015, the leaders of 10 successful French start-ups called on its technology expats to leave Silicon Valley and return home. It’s compelling message: the same opportunities exist in France as elsewhere.

Ireland and France are not alone is reaching out to its native sons and daughters. China has been actively luring Chinese abroad to bring their skills back to the country through its “Thousand Talents Program” launched in 2009. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also initiated efforts through India’s Ministry of Science and Technology to lure its citizens back.

To be really effective, review all or some of the steps below to take advantage of the trend.

5 top tips to take advantage of the “reverse brain drain”

  • Sharpen your employer brand messaging. A “glocal” approach is best because you will appeal to both local talent and the expats abroad. They need to know that in upholding your corporate value, you also offer an employee value proposition that makes the decision to stay or return home a wise choice.
  • Improve talent mobility. Don’t lose talent to competitors when you can offer career opportunities at your overseas operations. The key is to communicate these opportunities throughout the organization so that workers considering a return home know they have options.
  • Understand what motivates workers. You may be able to attract and retain talent by offering benefits available back home. Maybe they are seeking family support for childcare or flexible work schedules. Maybe they are seeking free university education for children. Accommodating their needs through office perks such as flexible hours or educational grants could have a significant impact on attracting and retaining talent.
  • Leverage local value propositions. Every market offers unique benefits that appeal to local workers. Identify what those are for your key markets and leverage them to your organization’s advantage.
  • Recruit from abroad. You operations abroad can help you attract great talent that can be leveraged elsewhere. Identifying expats who are open to returning home is a great way to tap into your internal talent pool to fill critical roles.

Brain drain will always be a fact of life as mature markets offer great living standards and exciting career opportunities, but as growing economies demand more skills, you can be sure expat workers will more closely assess how to take advantage of career opportunities closer to home.

about the author

Trent  Short

Trent has more than 18 years recruitment experience across a number of industries and holds a bachelor's in human resources as well qualifications in psychometric assessments and targeted selection. He joined the executive division of Randstad Australia in July 2004 and has held a number of key roles in the business during his tenure including national client solutions, operational management and business concepts development. In 2014 Trent joined the Malaysian team as the director of shared services for Asia Pacific to support Randstad Sourceright's continued investment in developing sourcing and talent attraction expertise throughout the region.

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