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The topic of brain drain

While the phenomenon of brain drain and brain gain are not necessarily good or bad, it is something that affects the smallest towns and the poorest nations, from right here in the Lakeland to the Philippines, Guatemala and Uganda.
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Brain drain – it's happening on micro and macro scales all the time, even though we might not always think of it that way. 

Every time a young graduate leaves the Lakeland region to receive a higher level education and then doesn’t return, either because there is no way to utilize that skill where they’re from or quality of life and income is higher elsewhere, that is a form of brain drain. 

There is a constantly moving labour market for skilled workers where some areas and countries are the winners and many more are the losers of their human capital. 

And while I would never argue that individuals should have their freedom of movement restricted, there remain serious challenges for regions that are not capable of retaining or attracting highly skilled workers. 

In general, however, Canada continues to be a recipient of ‘brain gain,’ offering international professionals competitive wages, political freedom that they may not have where they are from, and a society with advantages such as universal health care and equal rights for women and LGBTQ+ people. 

And while it was once quite common for Canada to accept skilled professionals to fill unskilled roles, times are changing. Canadian industries continue to improve on accepting education equivalents and retraining skilled workers to Canadian standards to get newcomers back in their previous roles. 

However, the exodus of highly skilled workers from poorer nations to richer ones does have an impact on the ‘losing’ nation. They remain in constant need of a highly skilled labour force even though those professionals may have been trained and graduated from their own institutions.  

In Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, she highlights how even emigrants living and working abroad are still contributing to their home communities. 

In her book, Moyo points out that people working abroad create more of an economic benefit to their countries of origin than all the aid that is provided by non-profits or governmental organizations. 

Why? Because when a foreign worker sends money back home to their family, that money will get directly injected into the economy through financial transactions. That dollar sent abroad could be used simply to buy groceries or to hire a contractor to repair a leaky roof. 

If brain drain can be a positive thing, why do I bring it up? With the war in Ukraine, I have noticed somewhat of a disturbing narrative that has penetrated conversations: “Ukrainian refugees – an untapped labour market of highly educated and trained workers.” 

In the midst of a war that has lasted over 100 days, there has been a shift from wanting to support Ukrainians abroad and help them regain their sovereign territory to ‘How can we integrate these young professionals into Canada to fill positions in our struggling labour sectors?” 

And again, while I am not opposed to people finding new opportunities and setting down roots, this red carpet was not rolled out to refugees following the collapse of the Afghanistan government, or to the people of Darfur fleeing from Southern Sudan, or even the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee Myanmar. 

Generally, there is an expectation that once a nation returns to stability that those refugees, or at least most, will resettle in their home country. But that doesn’t seem to be the approach when it comes to Ukrainian refugees – we want them to stay, integrate and not return home. 

I think there is a toxicity to the “collect the best and leave the rest” mentality when it comes to both refugees and immigrants that should be addressed collectively.  

As a society, I believe we should begin to contemplate how we can offer a greater advantage to the world instead of a draining force to other nations.  

Canada has some of the highest quality post-secondary institutions and trade schools in the world, perhaps through increasing affordability and access for Canadian and international students, Canada could be a hub that builds up human capital in a similar manner to that of Germany and Spain. 

While the phenomenon of brain drain and brain gain are not necessarily good or bad, it is something that affects the smallest towns and the poorest nations, from right here in the Lakeland to the Philippines, Guatemala and Uganda.

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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