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Off the Record: Stop freaking out about the brain drain

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Earlier this week, we ran an article which stated that despite Asia’s streak as one of the most promising and dynamic economies in the world, countries in the region are struggling to keep talent at home.

According to a survey by Universum, students are still choosing cities such as New York, London and San Francisco when looking for career opportunities. Singapore and Hong Kong were the only two Asian cities to make it to the top 10.

While the stats leave more to be desired, I can’t say I disagree. I can understand why someone might choose a job in the Big Apple over a stint in Vietnam or even Shanghai. Heck, I’d jump on that opportunity in a heartbeat, but I don’t think it’s something to get all flustered about.

The concern Asia is experiencing a brain drain might be just a bit exaggerated. Yes, our youngest and brightest are moving overseas for opportunities not yet available to them at home, but the odds are, generally speaking, they will come back.

From what I have seen, they’re returning with the intention of applying everything they’ve learned overseas and injecting it into the local scene to create what I feel will be an even more innovative, dynamic and intelligent working landscape.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of friends relocate for work, family or school. The great news is the majority have decided to come home after about five years of living abroad.

The even better news is, of those who have returned, many have moved into the entrepreneurial space and started projects of their own, which I’m happy to report are successful.

An ex-classmate of mine is now the managing editor of an online lifestyle and culture magazine. Another has just started his own travel company, one is working as a freelance branding and marketing consultant and one more has taken to building a community of local artists.

These graduates are our next generation of leaders. Letting them go and gain overseas experiences will give them a depth and maturity they won’t necessarily get in Singapore.

You see, while this country has undoubtedly done a phenomenal job of producing smart students, it is my opinion our education system lacks the flexibility to allow students to be creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.

The paper chase – regardless of country – creates employees who know how to effectively get from point A to B, but don’t see the value in occasionally taking the scenic route. Needless to say, I’m all for the scenic route.

Singapore is becoming one of the most exciting places to be in Asia. We are on the cusp of being the Asian city, but we need to have enough trust in our young talent to let them fail, flourish and seek adventure and risk if we want Singapore to become even greater.

We may be a little red dot on the map, but no one said we couldn’t be the brightest damn red dot in the world.

But before we get there, employers in Asia have to be ready to do what it takes to make sure young talent have a place to come home to. Go on and create opportunities that are going to allow them to apply knowledge gained from the other side of the world.

I know us Gen Ys can be a bit brazen and vocal in our opinions, but let us have a say because you never know where and from whom your next big idea is going to come from.

It would not hurt to build a culture where employees feel they are making an impact, where they feel they are contributing to the bigger picture and are more than just a cog in a shiny, well-oiled machine.

After all, the brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.

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