Corporate Eye

Another Front in the Global War for Talent


USA Today headline:  More of world’s talented workers opt to leave USA.

The loud public conversation in America about the complicated topic of “illegal immigration” has drowned out another significant concern that impacts business.  But “reverse immigration” may soon attract more interest.  According to Duke University’s Vivek Wadhwa, “What was a trickle has become a flood.”   He projects that “in the next five years, 100,000 immigrants will go back to India and 100,000 to China, countries that have had rapid economic growth,” adding that “for the first time in American history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries experienced.”

The article cites several reasons for the exodus:

  • These experienced and well-educated workers have excellent career opportunities in their own countries.
  • Family ties and cultural roots draw many people homeward.
  • Money goes further in their countries of origin, offering potential improvements in quality of life.
  • Immigration delays frustrate some, who are tired of having an uncertain status and may face waits of up to ten years for permanent residency.

How does all this impact recruiting and employer branding in the U.S.?  Perhaps not much in the immediate term.  Most of those leaving are actually leaving good jobs they already have—so at best they were passive candidates who will just not be available in the local pool.  But over time there will be a greater impact if certain talent areas are depleted faster than they are replenished.  This effect is most noteworthy in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (often referred to as STEM).

For companies that are really thinking strategically about staffing, the key may be in helping to create the future labor force, rather than just waiting to see what’s available when workers are needed.  A thought-provoking discussion recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education surfaces many of the problems affecting STEM education and touches on the effects of industry-education partnerships.

See what all this looks like from the other side—and get some interesting ideas—in How the Disciple became the Guru, a white paper from Global Engineering and Entrepreneurship @ Duke.  As the report explains, in India “several industries, including IT, have learned to overcome another major deficiency: India’s education system. They have adapted and perfected western practices in workforce training and development, and now take workers with poor education and weak technical skills and turn them into highly productive technical specialists and managers able to compete on the world stage.”

Final thought:  Smart companies doing business multi-nationally may find ways to take advantage of this trend.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to “think locally, and act globally.”

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.