The ‘brain drain’ appears to be back. A new OECD report, based on old 2001 Census data, has revealed that there was a huge ‘brain drain’ from the UK at the turn of the century. It was the biggest exodus of talent and brains since the war. 1.26-million British graduates were living abroad at that point, and of graduates with “high skills” 15 percent (1.1-million) lived abroad. Overall, around 1-in-10 British citizens live overseas.

Scary numbers, but I’m cautious; the figures clearly come from 2001, and the census — on which you may declare your type of employment, but not the actual name of your degree, as far as I can remember. So the scale of those figures may well have something to do with the employment fallout during/after the dot.com boom & crash, which sucked up and then spat out so many talented graduates. How many graduates and professionals who had gone to work in and around the dot.com+advertising+marketing bubble were just taking a ‘year in the sun’ on their redundancy payoff and savings, on 29th April 2001 when the Census was taken? How many R&D staff had jumped ship to go abroad shortly before the April 2001 collapse of the massive GEC/Marconi in the Midlands? Maybe not so many, but it would be interesting to know. How many went overseas, gained experience and then came back home? Also, how many of these…

“the Office for National Statistics data suggested that 207,000 Britons — one every three minutes — left the UK in 2006.”

… are mainly the ‘baby boomers’ heading for well-deserved retirement homes in the sun?

However, according to commentators on the OECD report numbers, it seems we may have been lucky in the post-2000 period…

[the] Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) [said] “In the UK, although we have lost skilled emigrants, we are very fortunate to have gained skilled immigrants. Our research over 25 years found that although we had lost 1.38m highly-skilled people, we had in the same time gained 1.42m highly skilled people from other countries.”

Yet these skilled immigrants would now appear to be the ones that Gordon Brown wants to hit with punative extra taxes, seemingly based only on where they were born. Which sounds like some kooky National Front policy. Odd.

It’s generally agreed we have a skills shortage in the West Midlands, especially so in manufacturing, although according to this report and others the shortages are often very geographically localised and are far worse in some industries than others. I’d hazard a guess that not a great deal of the shortage is actually down to actual emigration of British graduates, except perhaps in science and at the top ends of HE teaching and large-project engineering. After all, historically it seems to me that we’ve always pushed a good many of our talented people abroad, from the British Empire right through to the socialist 1970s.

I’d hazard a guess (ok, 12 guesses) that many skills shortages outside London have more to do with…

1. The ever-increasing number (about a 16% annual rise since 2005) of jobs that need strong graduates in a knowledge-based economy. Rapidly changing technologies that require rapid re-skilling. Apparently we could do with about 70,000 extra strong/suitable graduates in the West Midlands, merely to supply the private sector.

2. The dismal standards of secondary education, and the wider lack of respect for education and intelligence.

3. A general attitude among middle-managers that talented young graduates can be overworked and undertrained. Mis-matched and poor training ‘on the job’.

4. Significant numbers (40%) of young graduates leaving the West Midlands for other parts of the UK, after graduation. Often these are the brightest and the best.

5. A falling birth-rate among educated women, plus the gradual retirement of the ‘baby boomer’ generation.

6. The post-2001 trend for ‘down-shifting’, as professionals sold expensive London / South East houses and headed off with their loot and family for a quiet self-employed rural life.

7. High house prices inhibiting employee movement within the UK. Unwillingness to endure a stressful commute in order to take a new job.

8. A lack of social skills among a significant minority of people with high talent, leading them to be radically under or mis-employed, or exploited and ‘burned out’ — and thus drifting into poverty (14% of UK professionals live in poverty).

9. The rise of serious drug and booze addictions, even among professionals, often as a result of overwork but also a macho work culture.

10. Poor management in firms, combining with antiquated and prejudiced employment practices. “Slash and burn” re-structuring of firms in the 1970s and 80s caused severe problems in male career patterns into the 1990s, eventually leading to a wholesale lack of older employees in many large firms. Many took early retirement, taking their skills and tacit knowledge with them.

11. Over-bureaucratic and under-trained personnel managers, leading to poor recruitment ‘reach’. Antiquated and poorly designed application forms. Rushed and box-ticking job interviews that don’t allow people to shine.

12. The boom in public and voluntary sector ‘non jobs’, which lures graduates into relatively easy non-productive jobs.

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