Is brain drain a friend or foe of Jamaica?

Is brain drain a friend or foe of Jamaica?

A young woman sits in a chair of the airplane

Brain Drain

If you don’t invest in something, you are sure to lose it eventually. This statement holds true when it comes to resources that are available to the youth of a country which is developing, especially Jamaica. While there has been an improvement in technological and other essential assets to aid in development, the country certainly has a far way to go; students are excelling at a faster rate than what can be offered to them by the education system and the economy at large.

Most times the country is not able to facilitate the maximization of the youths’ potential. The harsh reality is that Jamaica does not have the infrastructure or finances to adequately support and encourage intellectuals to achieve their career goals while in the country. Common issues that youth face, especially at the tertiary level are either their degrees are not feasible due to the static nature or it’s not accredited, or there are not many jobs available after graduation.

Jamaicans also have a culture of nepotism, also known as ‘links’. This aspect of Jamaican culture is the biggest known influence on whether or not some people get jobs; it’s really who knows who. With this culture, even graduates with high qualifications are being overlooked and are not given the opportunity in their own country and stricken by discouragement are, in a sense, forced to fall prey to brain drain.

Is brain drain a friend or foe of Jamaica?

Graduates – UWI Mona

“I started AIM because of the pivotal role that an overseas education played in my own life. I wanted more young people to access the opportunities that I have had, and then build Jamaica…. Once young people see themselves as change-makers, they are more likely to continue to see themselves that way, and it is our hope that their sense of connectivity to Jamaica, and the possibilities that their education will awaken, will motivate them to return,” Nicole McLaren Campbel, AIM.

The brain drain is impacted by the high debt servicing levels in the country and when the government is focused on paying back their debt, investing in the country gets ranked a lower priority and opportunities are limited. A study conducted by the World Bank found that approximately eighty-five percent of Jamaica’s tertiary-level graduates leave their home country, making Jamaica the second highest case of brain drain in the world.

“If you speak to the youth of today, they will tell you that they love Jamaica very much. Then listen for the conjunction that follows—but. They are looking [for] an escape…. You find them in all parts of the world in better positions, progressing faster, and earning more than their equal in Jamaica. This has caused the stakeholders to be thinking about bonding and charging people in certain sectors because they see the gold leaving the ‘wood and water,” Hezekan Bolton, Writer to the Jamaica Observer Editorial.

Now, it is not to say that there are no opportunities for Jamaicans in Jamaica; it is just that the ratio of the number of graduates leaving school, even at the secondary level, to the number of jobs available for them is skewed. While Forbes has listed Jamaica as the number one place to do business, education might help solve the problem of how to improve an economy, but it is the educated persons who leave to explore a better life, leaving the uneducated behind, and the government is not maximizing those persons and providing opportunities in their best interest. According to the UNESCO 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, more than one in two highly skilled persons who are citizens of the Caribbean migrate to other countries.

“On the surface it’s terrible but these people often serve as angel investors when they go back home to get involved with companies. Some go back to set up new companies. Also, venture capitalists that made money with an Israeli company go back and get more,” Professor Josh Lerner, Harvard University Professor.

Brain drain is a necessary evil. While some persons still have allegiance to their country, they are more likely to build other organizations rather than their own. Jamaica has forced youth to migrate to find opportunities elsewhere, so they migrate to countries that provide those facilities or jobs to them. As a result, the person benefits by being able to operate successfully within their chosen field with possibilities of promotions and development, and the country benefits from the person because they typically add value to the society which they operate in. Therefore, they help to further develop the country and this may produce more facilities for other people to become interested in and then also migrate towards – further adding to the cycle.

“Over time, organisations with poor cultures are likely to experience gradual decreases in the quality of their products and services as their industry’s ‘best and brightest’ workers are snapped up by competitors, leaving a pool of less qualified, less talented and less experienced job seekers for organizations with poor cultures to choose from.” – The Employee View of the Employer Brand survey conducted by Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative.

It’s unfortunate that the home country misses out on this added value and instead remains stagnant in terms of development. If the brain drain cycle continues where enough persons in a particular field leave Jamaica, for example, then stagnant development in that area turns to rotting and in the long run the country suffers, because all the people in that field left the country and so it prevents the country from development in that area which puts the country at an increased risk of not ever being able to have those facilities that the other countries offer and that persons can benefit from.

“Developed countries are built on knowledge and expertise, and if developing countries, like Jamaica, want to develop at a more rapid pace, they must create ingenious ways to balance brain drain,” Dr. Andre Haughton, Ph.D.

Take a tree for instance, where brain drain can be seen as the cutting off of a branch from the tree, impeding growth, so much so that if enough branches are cut off then the tree risks dying. If Jamaica is unable to foster retention of graduates, brain drain will be something that Jamaicans will have to eventually accept as normal, and rely on remittances from people living abroad to help sustain the economy—a hard pill to swallow.

“There’s the saying that “children are the future,” but for Jamaicans, it’s translated as “Remittance is the future.” Many parents and family members are happy because their Jamaican children abroad are patriotic, not to Jamaica itself, but to MoneyGram, Western Union, and the container wharf,” Hezekan Bolton, Writer to the Jamaica Observer Editorial

On the other hand, the government can analyze the shortfalls of the economy and see how they can decrease the level of brain drain by finding ways to motivate persons to stay in the country, build the society and make work comfortable. One solution could be not only creating jobs but offering internships for students and recent graduates to gain valuable experience. Additionally, the government should reform policies for education and[policies for] how the economy is managed.  Once they are able to do this, Jamaica will be able to have people return to the country because of the resources offered to them.

How do we let persons who leave Jamaica know that they are needed here? How can we re-engineer the country so the economy can gain retention its? What incentives can we provide to ensure that they remain in the country?

By Alexandra Daley

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