Brain drain shows misery in country, should be translated into dollars
Human capital flight, more commonly known as brain drain, characterised as the emigration of highly skilled workers to other, more prosperous countries is a problem faced by Sri Lanka that accelerated over the past year and is impacting all sectors of the economy.
Economists and professionals are raising alarms on the loss of skilled and innovative individuals leading to the loss socio-economic potential for the country, which is already facing an economic downturn.
At Tuesday’s Sunday Times Business Club (STBC) discussion on migration held at the Movenpick Hotel in Colombo, it was revealed that more men than women have migrated. “There are no official statistics on worker departures,” Dr. Bilesha Weeraratne, Research Fellow and Head of Migration and Urbanisation Research at the Institute of Policy Studies, a panellist at the discussion, told the audience.
Under a recent research done by her on the migration of workers from the country, she said that samples were collected from four locations, namely, the Saudi Arabian visa office, the Qatar visa office, among other centres.
“All those interviewed at the site were of prime working age,” Ms. Weeraratne said.
Chiranthi Cooray, Deputy General Manager / Chief Transformation Officer of Hatton National Bank PLC (HNB) a panellist at the discussion, pointed out that Gen Z and millennials are leaving. “There is a narrative that good people are leaving and those who are not so good are staying back In the country,” she said, noting that this type of narrative does not do any good for the morale of those staying back. She also noted that the responsibility of the management in companies is to reassure and change the narrative to say that good people are leaving but better people are staying back in the country.
It was noted brain drain effecting sectors are mostly the banking, hotels and IT sectors.
Dr. Sirimal Abeyratne, Professor in Economics, the University of Colombo, said that migration isn’t a sign of prosperity for the country. “Sri Lanka is the only country in the world where we use taxpayers’ money and send people to other countries to build these countries. Migration is a sign of misery in the country.”
However, Dr. Weeraratne noted that migration isn’t all that bad. Acknowledging there is brain drain when migration happens, she said that there is also brain gain and brain circulation in the process. “But we need to find a way to connect these migrants to Sri Lanka like they do in India.” She also said that it is important to find the labour market demand in the country and decide on what sectors of employees the country need to let go and what sectors it needs to retain.
Ms. Cooray said that HNB has devised a policy where they welcome those who wish to return to the job. Dr. Weeraratne noted that it’s important for companies to retain good people in the country.
Some banks the Business Times spoke to also said that there is a programme where there is a shorter window of a year or six months where returning employees are absorbed into the institution. Movenpick, Hemas Holdings amd NDB Bank are the sponsors of the STBC events.
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