Pakistan’s brain drain is a talent crisis it cannot afford
Official statistics in Pakistan seem to underestimate the true scale of brain drain occurring in the country. This exodus of talent has profound implications for Pakistan’s national productivity, economic growth, and crucial social sectors like education and health care. As the nation approaches the general election, it becomes crucial to address this pressing issue and consider how it may shape the political landscape and future policies of those who clinch power later this year at the federal and provincial level.
The brain drain from Pakistan goes beyond mere numbers on paper. It is a collective loss of talent, skills, and potential that has far-reaching consequences. Beyond the evident loss of highly skilled professionals, it impacts the transfer of knowledge, innovation, and progress within the country. When teachers leave, the education sector suffers from a shortage of qualified educators, leading to a diminished quality of education and hampering the future of Pakistan’s youth.
Likewise, when doctors, health care professionals, and medical researchers depart, the health care system faces severe challenges. The scarcity of medical experts leaves vulnerable populations underserved, resulting in compromised health care facilities and reduced access to essential medical services. One should not forget that during and after the pandemic there has been a surge in global demand for health care professionals and all developed economies have relaxed entry for these professionals to ensure their future needs of an aging workforce are met.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently painted a gloomy picture and raised doubts about the country’s ability to quickly kickstart economic growth. On top of this, the implications of brain drain on the economy are substantial. The departure of skilled individuals is already starting to contribute to a scarcity of expertise in key manufacturing industries. It is no surprise that leading export sectors i.e., textiles and garments have reported a loss of talent, in turn weakening competitiveness vis-à-vis peer economies.
The brain drain crisis is not a challenge that Pakistan can afford to overlook. It demands immediate attention from policymakers, businesses, and civil society.
Moreover, the remittances sent back by the Pakistani diaspora may provide some financial relief, but they cannot replace the long-term economic contribution that a skilled workforce can make if it stays. The prime example here is given by potential investors who come to study the scope of foreign direct investment and complain regarding missing skills or the inability to find skilled labor on a large scale.
As Pakistan approaches the general election, addressing this brain drain becomes an imperative agenda for political parties. The issue demands thoughtful consideration in party manifestos and future policies aimed at curbing the exodus of skilled individuals and retaining talented youth within the country.
Political parties need to prioritize initiatives that not only entice skilled professionals back (seen in the case of China and India) but also create an environment that encourages them to stay (seen in the case of Bangladesh and Chile). Incentives such as better career prospects, competitive wages, and a supportive infrastructure are key factors in retaining talent within the country.
In the case of women, global competition to attract the best is intense. Retaining women in both wage and self-employment within the country will require equalization of pay and benefits, flexible work arrangements, a supporting work culture, support groups in the labor market, and leadership opportunities in both the public and private sector.
The above mentioned countries have paid special attention to bring back their citizens who specialize in science and technology. These measures include the establishment of research and innovation centers, investment in high-tech industries, and fostering a conducive environment for entrepreneurship and innovation. Such countries have also encouraged trade-in-services with neighboring countries allowing the liberal movement of creative workers.
Provincial policies will need a clear focus directed toward encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups which in turn will generate local and good quality jobs. Strengthening collaborations of the private sector with educational institutions to design skill-based training programs that align with the demands of the job market is the need of the hour. Such initiatives ensure that the youth are equipped with the necessary skills and qualifications that make them competitive in the job market, reducing the allure of seeking opportunities abroad.
The brain drain crisis is not a challenge that Pakistan can afford to overlook. It demands immediate attention from policymakers, businesses, and civil society. As the nation gears up for the general election, political parties must prioritize, with a focus on formulating policies that retain skilled professionals and foster an environment of growth and opportunity within the country. Only through collective efforts and visionary leadership (which hopefully the upcoming elections will deliver), can Pakistan reverse the trend of brain drain and pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for its citizens.
- Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant. He tweets @vaqarahmed