How to solve our brain-drain problem

The BusinessMirror recently published an article, titled “Brain drain: Southeast Asia’s obstacle to growth”, which described how the region is losing some of its best professionals to rich nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The article cited a study by the Asian Development Bank showing that the number of Asean immigrants with university degrees who left to work in OECD-member nations surged 66 percent in 2011 to 2.8 million. Unfortunately, more than half of them came from the Philippines.

The article said this loss of human capital in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, management and education can be a major obstacle to economic and social development. That’s because the professionals we lose are usually in their productive ages. Among Asean members, the Philippines has been ranked No. 1 for exporting nurses and No. 2 for sending doctors overseas. Of course, the Philippine economy benefits from their remittances, which reached $30 billion last year. Still, the productivity gains accrue to the developed economies where Filipino professionals are employed.

Coined in the 1960s, when British scientists and intellectuals immigrated to the US, brain drain refers to the loss of human capital. As more and more Filipino professionals continue to seek greener pastures abroad, it may seem as if the country’s brain-drain problem shows no signs of stopping. Given the current trend, the Philippines continues to face a brain-drain problem, which is depriving the labor pool of much of its greatest talent. We have lost an estimated 10 percent of our population, including many highly qualified professionals who continue to seek greener pastures abroad.

Like most of their counterparts in Asean, the report said, “Filipino professionals respond to other countries’ higher wages and better working conditions, prospects for professional development and continuous education, and opportunities to work with other skilled persons in talent clusters.” Many Filipinos, however, are often overqualified for the overseas jobs they hold.

Is there hope for the Philippines to solve its brain-drain problem? Yes, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), which noted that Asean economies are benefiting from growing populations.

In its latest Economic Insight report, ICAEW said brain drains have been reversed before, particularly in India and China, where many professionals are returning. “As we have seen, in China and India, for example, emigrants are willing to return to their home countries despite even wage cuts, so long as they are confident their sector of expertise exists. One key strategy will be to make sure that the Philippines’s high-tech industrial centers are integrated into relevant international networks; this means that people can return to their home nation without fearing that their career progression will suffer,” said Mark Billington, regional director of ICAEW Southeast Asia.

The solution that ICAEW proposed includes providing incentives, such as grants for knowledge businesses. “Creating clusters of businesses in areas with good-quality infrastructure can catalyze the development of a viable new sector in an economy, particularly if those with the requisite education exist. There is little point in investing in upgrading higher education systems to cope with the new economy, if those workers will simply leave to start a career elsewhere,” the ICAEW report said.

The government’s “Build, Build, Build” program may create jobs for the unemployed. But if we are to solve our brain drain-problem, we need to work on improving conditions that will provide great incentives for Filipino professionals with super skills to stay.





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