Is There A Bright Side To SA's Skills Loss?

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If you’re based in the talent-sourcing niche, it can be distressing to see skilled senior staff members at listed corporations emigrating en masse for the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and even Canada. But there’s a notable silver lining.


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Commonly referred to as “brain drain”, this mass emigration is a situation in which the most educated professional individuals of a country move elsewhere, typically to more economically sound countries overseas, to benefit from a range of improved work and personal conditions – from better pay to an improved work-life balance, say the experts at HRZone.

But it’s not all bad news, reveals Jeremy Bossenger, director at Sandton-based BossJansen Executive Search. “When a key team member emigrates, a gap opens up for a keen, younger person to undergo the training and gain the experience needed to fill that person’s shoes. With the right support, such an individual can be a boon for the company in question; not just due to their revved up impetus to thrive and achieve, but also from a B-BBEE perspective,” he enthuses.

The causes of this phenomenon do, however, need close attention, says Bossenger – referring to the ResearchGate paper “An assessment of the causes and implications of brain drain on South Africa’s socio-economic development.” Authors Victor Mlambo and Toyin Adetiba find that key factors pushing South Africans to emigrate include “crime levels, political uncertainty and poor economic growth”. In more recent times, Eskom’s ever-vacillating loadshedding schedule has caused disruption and a disjointed business environment, which many skilled professionals are unwilling to work around any longer.

While brain drain is, in fact, not unique to South Africa, it is certainly more common in so-called developing nations, say the authors. And political uncertainty certainly compounds the issue.

How then do we uncover the root causes of brain drain so that it can be dealt with in the future, asks Bossenger? After all, a country cannot develop without a skilled workforce and a business environment in which skilled professionals feel appreciated and are adequately remunerated.

Solutions include employing B-BBEE legislation only where the individual to be promoted is deemed sufficiently talented to take on the new role and thrive; and an increasing investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes, by both government and the private sector, in which an applicant must commit to working for a local company as a condition of benefiting from that scholarship or bursary.

“If you look on the bright side, though, at least two-thirds of [South] African youth who are considering emigrating say they would be doing so on a temporary basis – bringing their skills and experiences home in time. This is according to the African Youth Survey 2022. Additionally, the stats reveal that their desire to settle back home again after a period of working and travelling abroad rings true – up to 359 000 South Africans have returned home over the past five years, says a 02 April article published on SAGoodNews. Further, SA remains the most appealing destination on the continent in which to settle.”

Perhaps, if African countries are able to offer a range of incentives to returning professionals – with endorsement from the likes of the African Union and prominent listed corporations – so the heights these individuals may have achieved on the world stage can, in time, return to benefit us back home

By Vanessa Rogers on behalf of BossJansen Executive Search

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