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To Work or Not To Work Abroad

Brain drain.

I first encountered this phrase more than 20 years ago. My social science teacher explained that it is basically a mass exodus of our country’s most educated and skilled professionals such as doctors, engineers, teacher, etc. I remember my teaching painting it as a negative issue. Bad for our country because if all the best minds and talents leave the country, who will be left? Who will serve our countrymen and provide the necessary expertise that will bring progress to our nation?

At that time, I took things at face value and just filed the concept of brain drain as a negative issue. Two decades later, as I find myself working in the field of Human Resources, the issue has resurfaced and has become real to me.

However, rather than just classifying it blindly as a negative thing, I find myself questioning what I have been taught about the issue. For one, if it was such a bad thing for our country, why is our government promoting and encouraging overseas employment? If it would provide such a negative impact to this nation, how come the country is actually benefiting from exporting its labor force to different countries?

The Positive Side

Our OFWs have helped keep our country afloat though their dollar remittances. Families who have relatives working overseas benefit tremendously from these remittances because they can now afford to send their siblings or children to better schools, buy the latest gadgets and appliances., invest in small-scale businesses, and even buy real estate for their families. Economically, there is an advantageous side to exporting human capital: Money.Money.Money.

The Negative Side

On the other hand, there are negative effects of brain drain. Separating married people from each other or taking away parents from their children’s everyday lives will almost certainly leave a hole in people’s lives. The strength of the family unit gets challenged and some values are lost in the process.

Aside from the negative effect s of overseas employment to the family unit, it is also sad that many highly skilled professionals sacrifice their positions and learned skills just to go abroad. Who hasn’t heard about trained doctors giving up their profession to become nurses or nursing aids abroad? I’m not saying that being a nurse is bad thing; in fact, I believe it is truly noble profession. But if you have invested time, money and effort to become a doctor, if you have been trained to treat patients and have been certified to do surgeries, it would be a waste to give up that privilege. Some would even consider it as “brain waste.”

From an HR perspective, it has become more difficult to recruit the right people for the job due to brain drain. Some people would argue that there is no such thing as brain drain because if thousands of people leave the country every year, thousands more new graduates will still be ready to fill in the vacancies. That argument, of course, is a faulty one because we HR people know that years of training and experience is a major factor in our hiring. Companies and institutions will not run as smoothly and progressively as we’d expect. If we hire people without experience, setbacks and problems are to come because there is a steeper learning curve to contend with now.

Stay and Work Vs. Work Abroad

Now let me ask you, if you were faced with the opportunity to live and work abroad, would you take it?
To be honest, many of my friends have gone abroad and already made a pretty successful life and career overseas. I, myself, have been faced with the temptation of leaving the country once. But I chose to stay for hundreds of reasons…family, good career, good connections, cheap massages, yaya (nanny), good Filipino values, fish balls, comfort of home, etc. But above all I guess I felt that I could contribute more if I stayed here in our country. I must have been “brainwashed” by my social science teacher because I actually thought about it. If every educated person left this country, who will stay and actually try to help others? So I chose to stay, along with the millions of people who work everyday in this country to improve their lives. I have not regretted that choice since.

That is why, for people who don’t necessarile need to work overseas, for those who can afford to stay and work here in our country, I would encourage you to do so. Stay and work here, because you can make a difference.

“Brain Drain – Dealing with  a Human Capital Export Society” by Grace Abella-Zata of Corporate Executive Search, Inc. is one of the keynote issues that will be discussed in the upcoming HR Leadership Conference that will be held on February 27 to 28, 2013. I’d like to invite my fellow business and human resource practitioners to join us in the event. Please visit www.hrleadershipconference.com for more information.
JHOANNA O. GAN-SO is president of Businessmaker Academy, HR Club Philippines and Teach It Forward Organization. Since 2003, her company has served more than 20,000 participants from various companies and industries by providing corporate skills training, business and human resource seminars. To know more about the regular seminars and services that they offer, you may visit www.businessmaker-academy.com. To know more and join the HR club, visit www.hrclubphilippines .com. You may also call (632) 6874645. Email your comments and questions to: mbworklife@gmail.com