Brain Drain – the movement of highly skilled workers out of the UK

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Lets face it, with Covid and Brexit it has been an unusual 18 months – everything seems to have been flipped on its head and spun around 3 times, including migration.

In 2020 Europe saw a great reverse migration, with those who had left their native country to search for work, have returned home. When borders were being slammed shut due to the pandemic, many people rushed to get back home to be with families – a much more appealing way to live than being holed up in a small rented one bed flat in London – and have now realised with the changes of work patterns and a shifting economy that this move may be permanent.

According to a report in the Economist, this started before the pandemic – emigrants have been returning to the Baltic states after earning a nest egg or picking up useful skills in western Europe, and since 2017 more have been going home than leaving. Unemployment rates in Eastern Europe are dropping and although wage gaps are still significant, they are decreasing especially in the highly skilled IT sector.

Studies by the University of Oxford suggest between 400,000 and 600,00 foreign born people left the UK between 2019 and 2020 – to put that in to perspective a figure of 500,000 is roughly the population of Leeds. Analysis by the University of Oxford indicate that younger working-age people left in the greatest numbers.

What does this mean for the UK and the demand for technical skills? Will we see this as a brain drain for us? Hopefully not, as long as companies adjust their expectations on remote working and other working practices.

Remote working has caused a massive shift in recruitment within the IT sector – a lot more companies are now able to consider candidates who are based thousands of miles away, especially when it is a hard-to-find skill. For example, we currently have a company in Australia speaking to a candidate with very niche skills who is based in Turkey and the only concern is how the time difference will effect working practices. It doesn’t matter that they will never meet in person, all that matters is the project is completed.  Video interviewing is the norm regardless – does it matter if the candidate lives 5 miles or 50000 miles away? Not really

Candidates who say they will relocate back to the UK once they secure a job is also more common. Often we will speak to people who went back to their native country when Covid hit and travel was restricted, and will come back to the UK when a new position starts – but even then, a lot of the initial work and on-boarding is remote, so why does it matter if they are at the family home in South Africa or in a rented flat in Leeds for the first few months? If the rest of the company are working from home it doesn’t matter.

Luckily, we work in an industry that is built around technology and adapts well to remote working practices. Migration is fluid, always changing and often temporary. The adventure of foreign lands won’t go away but hopefully technology will enable the brain drain to turn into a brain gain for all of us, regardless of where you call home.