Solutions to Brain Drain: How to Overcome Talent Flight

elev8 - 4 min read

a group of brains boarding a plane

Brain drain represents the biggest threat to governments short of global ecological collapse. While human migration has happened since the dawn of time, it has never been as alarming as what we have witnessed in this century. This phenomenon, also known as “human capital flight,” is the colloquial label slapped on the mass exodus of highly skilled individuals from their country of origin. These moves are usually permanent, meaning that a country in brain drain continuously hemorrhages human capital, eventually falling into a permanent skills deficit. A declaration of “brain drain” is a sign that the government needs to implement swift and radical systemic change.  

To get a proper understanding of the world we live in today, 2019 saw the classification of over 272 million people as international migrants. Major events in recent years fuel the prediction that this number will continue to skyrocket. Neither can it be said that high migration is a plight seen only in developing nations, with the UK experiencing post-Brexit shockwaves in population movement. But if this has happened for millennia, why is this so dangerous for governments? 

Reasons for Brain Drain

1. Economic Impact: One of the significant reasons brain drain concerns governments is its negative impact on the economy. When highly skilled individuals leave a country, it results in a loss of intellectual capital and talent pool that could have contributed to innovation, research, and economic growth. This leads to a stagnation of industries and hampers a country’s ability to compete in the global market.

2. Weakened Workforce: The departure of skilled professionals creates a shortage of expertise within crucial sectors such as healthcare, engineering, technology, and education. This not only puts pressure on brain drain solutions to brain drain.

Negative effects of brain drain

Brain drain has a domino effect. The steady erosion of the talented, highly skilled, or entrepreneurial portion of the population is insidious and devastating. 

Healthcare services are increasingly strained as medical professionals move abroad in their thousands. New businesses don’t open because business owners want to avoid taking risks or raising funds. The local stock market crumbles, and speculators take their capital to foreign shores. Visionary leaders flee, seeking compensation packages corresponding to their talent and expertise. Woven together, these factors create a vicious negative feedback loop where apathy and stagnation reign supreme. Innovation and forward-thinking become foreign concepts.

If that wasn’t frightening enough, brain drain exacerbates the global economic disparity between developed and developing nations. A survey of 4,500 young people aged 18-24 across Africa revealed that 52% are considering emigration within the next few years. One young Nigerian painted a bleak picture – “90% of (my) friends want to leave“. 600,000 Nigerians graduate tertiary education across IT, engineering, business, and management every year. Quite simply, they can make more money by leaving the country in search of better career prospects. 

Solutions to brain drain

Governments worldwide increasingly recognize brain drain’s detrimental impact on their countries. Several potential solutions can be implemented to tackle this issue and retain highly skilled individuals.

1. Creating a Favorable Environment: Governments can work towards creating a favorable environment that attracts and retains talent. This includes implementing policies that promote economic stability, research and development investment, and attractive incentives such as competitive salaries, benefits, and career growth opportunities.

2. Investing in Education: Governments can equip their citizens with the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive in a competitive global market by investing in quality education systems. This includes focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and providing scholarships and funding for higher education. By nurturing a highly educated workforce, countries can reduce the incentive for individuals to leave in search of better educational opportunities elsewhere.

3. Improving Working Conditions: Governments should prioritize improving working conditions and creating a positive work-life balance. This includes addressing issues such as long working hours, lack of job security, and limited career advancement opportunities. By creating an environment that values employee well-being and provides a healthy work culture

So, what can governments in brain drain do?  

Brain drain is a significant challenge for many countries, especially those that rely on skilled workers to drive their economies. The loss of such workers can significantly impact the country’s development and growth. To address this issue, governments must develop strategies to retain their skilled workers. Upskilling and reskilling the local workforce not only boosts job prospects but also shifts international business perception towards developing countries.  

According to the Future Workforce Report 2022 published by Upwork, a global freelancing platform, in the US alone, 60% of hiring managers are struggling to find the quality talent needed to fill roles and, as a result, are exploring creative ways to tackle the shortage. The solution is widening their radar to consider previously untapped markets like Africa.  

Investment in large-scale digital skilling programs can stem the brain drain by giving people the skills they need to find sustainable employment that pays well and offers good career prospects. Develop the skilled workforce, and you create a reason for inward investment from outside organizations, perhaps further aided by favorable incentives. You also create a large talent pool that can be accessed remotely; around 38% of African software developers are already working for companies based in countries outside their own. This is also a win for governments; workers remain resident in their home country, contribute to the national economy, and act as a showcase for African digital talent. 

Of course, this approach requires significant investment. However, there is evidence to support it. 

Elev8 is your brain gain partner

Elev8 has partnered with Microsoft and the Microsoft Africa Transformation Office (ATO) in Nigeria to equip and skill local talent from non-traditional tech backgrounds through digital skilling initiatives and programs. This pilot program took 125 learners and put them through an intensive training course. At the end of the program, over 85% of learners had found work, many working for local Nigerian enterprises. 

Meanwhile, in Rwanda, one of Africa’s fastest-growing tech hubs, Elev8, and Tek Experts have partnered with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), Harambee (leaders in youth skills acceleration), and Digital Skills Accelerator Africa to develop and deliver an IT skills acceleration program that will equip 5,000 participants with the technical, communication, and conversational skills they need to jump-start their technology careers. Once participants graduate, they are supported in their search for relevant employment by Tek Experts and other technology companies in Rwanda to help retain thousands of trained professionals who might otherwise be tempted to leave.  

Elev8 continues to work with governments, funders, and enterprises to scale up these programs and potentially skill millions of people. This would not only create a significant upturn in the available digital talent pool nationally and regionally but also provide citizens a great reason to stay in their home country and develop their careers, reducing the brain drain and its negative effects. 

At Elev8, we have the future in mind. We’re committed to delivering educational initiatives and digital reskilling programs that transform enterprises and governmental organizations worldwide and, most importantly, make a positive difference in people’s lives.