4 Facts to Know About Brain Drain

September 20, 2019
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Author: Stephanie Ludwigsen

The phenomenon of skilled professionals leaving an area en masse is known as brain drain. While the term once most commonly applied to the migration of medical professionals out of a specific area, the term refers to any skilled group of people who depart the scene.

Brain drain most obviously leaves a shortage of skilled workers and loss of homegrown talent, but it can also have economic and social disadvantages, particularly for rural areas. What are some of the catalysts for brain drain and what areas in the country are experiencing it now?

Highly Skilled Talent Leaving for Better Opportunities

4 Things to Know About Brain Drain:

1. Debt Leads to Drain
Carrying around student loans becomes a heavy burden, prompting many young professionals to move from rural areas to metros that promise greater wages and earning potential. The Federal Reserve reports that 68 percent of rural counties lost populations between 2010 and 2016. Further, the Fed found that in the last two decades, employment of workers who are of prime age declined by 11 percent in rural populations.

2. Education Contributes to Migration
While professionals leave rural areas for better wages, research also shows that educational level plays a role in where they want to go. Relocation more commonly occurs with college educated adults than those who are non-educated, and job opportunities are often the catalyst for change.

Recent data from the United States Congress Join Economic Committee reveals the states from which more educated professionals are leaving are New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

3. Proactively Promote Place
It may be a disconnect to think about selling people on living in a particular community, but that is what some city leaders have done to bolster the talent pools in their area. Chicago has led initiatives to combat brain drain by promoting events like Think Chicago, which invites engineering, design and entrepreneurial college students to learn about Chicago’s technology scene with the goal of attracting and retaining talent to the city.

In addition, Las Vegas’ Downtown Project and the Roanoke Region of Virginia’s “Get2Know NOKE” website are other successful examples of place promoting to combat brain drain.

4. Housing Options Help
While housing is essential to putting down roots in a community, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. A study led by a research team from the University of Wisconsin revealed that those surveyed all had different ideas on what they wanted and needed in housing, leading to the conclusion that a community needs a variety of options to incent professionals, particularly millennials, to stay put.

Another study, which was part of a Go Virginia Region 2 project found that college students are looking for areas with employment opportunities, safety, outdoor recreation and career advancement. Based on the survey feedback, researchers recommended offering more networking groups, mentoring programs, internships and sector-based networking and career-advancement opportunities to help combat labor shortages and brain drain.

While even the most popular cities in the nation can’t do everything to combat talent migration, initiatives that focus on evolving brain drain into brain gain are key to mitigating labor shortages.