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The Global Skills Market: Understanding Talent Mobility

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The Global Skills Market: Understanding Talent Mobility

I had the opportunity to talk to Ian Burke, director at totaljobs.com, about the challenge of skills and labour shortage that the global market is currently facing. Working for totaljobs.com, Ian has a vast experience on what industries are suffering from the skills shortage and how they can overcome this issue. In this article, we are presenting a few very interesting findings that we have discussed and uncovered about the global labour market.

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The movement of people due to economic imperatives has been a factor of population change for hundreds of years – but the choices of the merchants, traders and craftsmen of the 17th and 18th centuries are far removed from the analysts, technicians and teachers of the 21st. Newly porous economic borders, with less stringent international labour laws and common markets, combined with the enabling impact of the internet and affordable travel, have encouraged a new age of worldwide talent mobility – creating a truly ‘glocal’ market for desirable skills.

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A recent survey from the Stepstone Group about workplace ambitions and challenges in the UK found that working close to home was a priority for 63% of the workforce – dropping to only 53% for those aged 18-29. This leaves a substantial proportion, nearly half of the working population of the UK, for whom working abroad is a genuine option to consider. An international study of 200,000 workers, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, found that, on average, 64% of the world’s working adults would consider taking a job abroad – including 59% of Americans aged 21 – 30. Indeed, in the majority of the nations surveyed, the younger generation proved more likely to put their skills to the test in another country.

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This professional diaspora amongst the young, often dramatically referred to as a ‘brain drain’, is now a global phenomenon, albeit a historic one. From the post-war European scientists of the 1940s and 50s, to India’s educated middle classes in the 60s and 70s, our ever-increasing talent mobility is enabling whole new generations to seek their fortunes in climes more conducive to their professional advancement. In Israel, for example, where emigrating retains some historic social stigma, the cost of living and the scarcity of graduate roles has led to 7% of the population living abroad. Across Africa’s emerging economies, emigration has been large enough to turn the negative impact of the brain drain on its head – a report by the World Bank suggested that expats actually boost trade for their home nation, creating up to $2,100 a year in exports per person.

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Whilst the uncertain impact of talent mobility may be a stumbling block for smaller or emerging markets, is it a significant challenge for more developed nations? In the West, the narrative around talent mobility is thoroughly confused – alarmist headlines about calamitous brain drains conflict with statistics about the huge competition for graduate roles and that the workforces of the US and the UK are, as identified by the BCG survey, some of the most unlikely to work abroad of any developed nation. Despite this reluctance, the migrant professionals that arrive to balance out any departing graduates are often stigmatised for filling key roles – simply put, we cannot decide whether global talent mobility is a good or bad thing.

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But this contradictory narrative about talent mobility is indicative of another phenomenon. It’s a confusion that is happening between the convulsing fault lines of our national economies – as our workforces tectonically shift from a closed, localised and top-down model to one that is both open, international and driven by everyone. Talent mobility, empowered by technology, can offer nations, communities and individuals a variety of economic trajectories – and it’s up to each and every one of us to choose where we land.

Featured photo credit: Wolrd Map – Abstract Acrylic by Nicolas Raymond via flickr.com

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