Why is it that we don’t focus on Brain Gain?

We always seem to focus on those leaving the country, and the potential loss of skills and resources we collectively lose as a country.  But we never really look at them coming back with very valuable experience, contacts and ideas that haven’t been tried here.

Tracey Lee - via massey.ac.nz

Tracey Lee – via massey.ac.nz

New Zealand needs to do more to harness the creative, economic potential offered by successful Kiwis returning home after long periods overseas, says a Massey sociologist.

Tracey Lee, a brand strategist who spent 12 years in New York and Shanghai where she worked for Absolut, Diageo, Unilever and The Coca-Cola Company before returning to New Zealand two years ago, says her Masters research highlights a missing key element in New Zealand’s migration policy.

Result? The country is losing out on valuable entrepreneurial skills, and the international experience and networks of dynamic, ambitious Kiwis keen to settle in their Pacific paradise homeland.

Titled Welcome Home? New Zealanders’ Experiences of Return Migration, her thesis combines personal stories behind return migration trends with fascinating insights on the re-integration process from highly skilled Kiwis. From this, she has developed tips to help others contemplating a return in the hope of minimising the hurdles and hitches they might face, and maximising “smooth landings”.  

While the ‘brain drain’ to more lucrative offshore destinations has captured headlines in the past decade, politicians have paid scant attention to the experiences of those who return – an “unwritten story” Ms Lee was prompted to explore as a returning migrant herself.

Unfortunately, it seems those that never left are too intimidated by this  

She says return migrants have been written off as unambitious life-stylers, with little interest in driving the economy forward. “The fact is, we don’t know enough about those who come home. Information that does exist is generally on new arrivals or those returning from an OE (Overseas Experience). What becomes of the returned? And what of the significant number who are returning from something much more substantive than an OE – what I define as extended OR (Overseas Residence) of five or more years?”

Those she interviewed experienced “re-entry shock” that can take years to navigate. “They are ill-prepared for re-entry challenges, and don’t necessarily have the networks to slip back in to a nation that can feel to them like it is ambivalent to their return,” she says.

As one participant put it; “The international experience is prized, but then there’s the contradiction that ‘we’re not really interested in your fancy foreign ways’.”

Another struggled with “not being allowed to talk about your overseas [professional] experience, it gets shut down, and it shuts down your willingness to have those conversations and your willingness to share or impart your experience”.

Her findings suggest return migrants want to give back, share their learning, and act as pivotal “return scouts” for those who follow. “They’re the ones who are going to either recommend or advise against return migration.”

Another reason she says the issue deserves more attention is that New Zealand, like other developed countries, is likely to face a talent shortage in coming years.

She says her study highlights the hopes, passion and desire of many returning Kiwis to be a part of New Zealand’s success. “They have ambition and drive. The fact they do place value on lifestyle and family makes them quintessential New Zealanders, not ‘lifestylers’.”

Pretty sad to think you are even more qualified than before, but you return to a country that won’t see the value in your skillset.  Unless we fix this, some very good people won’t return, and that way everyone loses.


Source:  massey.ac.nz

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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