Covid-19 pandemic causes virtual brain drain

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Mar 6, 2021

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Durban - Virtual emigration resulting in a virtual brain drain could impact on South Africa as remote working with salaries in dollars is fast becoming a trend in career choice.

The Covid lockdown has seen a shift in people working from home across the world, with South Africans now sought after in the remote work talent pool.

According to a Global Workforce Study released this week, South Africans are now less willing to relocate to a new country than they were in previous years, but are open to virtual mobility. This is according to a survey of 209 000 people across 190 countries by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network, with local partner organisation, Career Junction.

According to the new study "Decoding Global Talent Onsite and Virtual", South Africans are significantly less willing to physically relocate to a new country for work.

Only 59% of South Africans are willing to move to another country, down from 72% in 2018. It also revealed that young South Africans aren't willing to go abroad either with only 56% saying they would go.

BCG principal and recruiting director (Johannesburg) Rudi van Blerk said: "This is in line with the global trend of decreasing mobility, which is likely due to the pandemic, but also because of the tighter immigration and less welcoming policies by some of the big destination markets."

The findings show the pandemic has had a major impact on people's attitudes towards work abroad, with interest in relocating having been reduced. It also revealed an inclination to work in countries which have managed the coronavirus pandemic well.

While there is less willingness to pull up stakes and make the big move abroad, the study showed a high level of enthusiasm for virtual mobility – staying in your home country, but working for a foreign employer.

South Africans' level of interest saw 73% indicating they would be willing to work for an international remote employer, compared with the global average of 57%.

"This may have interesting implications: Africa could emerge as a possible virtual talent pool for Western companies – especially for European employers who don't need to deal with much time difference when employing African talent remotely.

"This could be a good opportunity for South African workers to gain global work experience, build their career and get better compensation, without having to worry about visas or relocation costs.

“However this could present the risk of a virtual brain drain for the South African economy," said Van Blerk.

Career Junction operations manager Wiebka Cooper said: "Workers in the whole of Africa have shown they are very open to working remotely for a foreign employer. Remote working has grown significantly as a trend because of the pandemic and offers opportunities for workers to advance their careers, even with international companies, without needing to relocate."

But Van Blerk highlighted that some of those with the most sought after skills were willing to pack their bags and go. These include those in digitalisation and automation (85%), science and research (78%), law (76%) and IT (74%).

"This could indicate a risk of brain drain in these fields where employers typically struggle to fill these roles", he said, while adding the growth in popularity for finding work in the Middle East was likely because of its efficient management of the pandemic.

With regard to attracting global workers into South Africa, the survey showed that the country's ranking dropped from 40th in 2018 to 45th in 2020, although South Africa still attracts interest from other African countries, such as Zambia, Angola and Gabon, with some international interest from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The Independent on Saturday

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