Why you should embrace Australia’s ‘brain gain’


The country is experiencing an influx of Australians returning to their comparatively COVID-safe homes, or a ‘brain gain’. Experts say attracting this globally experienced talent should start by dropping insular attitudes.  

When COVID-19 began its devastating march across the globe in the early months of the year, the Federal Government urged Australians living abroad to return home. Of the million-strong diaspora, around 400,000 heeded the call, bringing with them skills and knowledge amassed in the global market that may prove vital on our road to economic recovery.

But experts say parochial attitudes to recruitment have long prevented local companies from tapping into this internationally experienced pool of talent. If the pandemic has put business transformation high on the agenda, it presents an opportunity too valuable to miss.

Recruiting to reset

Australia has long lamented a ‘brain drain’ of skilled professionals to foreign shores. For many of our top technology minds, for instance, opportunities in Silicon Valley are hard to match in Sydney, while financial services talent often head to more dynamic centres like London or New York. Thanks to COVID-19, however, that trend has been reversed and we’re seeing what’s being called a ‘brain gain’ as more Aussie workers move their lives back home and set out looking for local employment opportunities.

 Maria MacNamara, CEO of Advance, an organisation that helps Australians move and work around the globe, says local companies need global experience more than ever.

 If they’re just operating as they always have, there isn’t a need,” she says. “But after COVID, which companies will be returning to their old ways?

“If they want to transform their organisations, move to digital, clean up their service delivery, transact more online, upgrade the platforms through which they run their businesses, do more with the data they collect, and start using more sophisticated machine learning and AI, [they need to assess if] their existing employees had exposure to organisations that have been run that way?

“If not, they’ll need to employ the global Australians who’ve come out of organisations with that experience, and engage them to help accelerate the transformation process.”

“We broke our economy to save the population’s health and now we’re turning our attention to reviving the economy, so we have nothing to lose.” –  Maria MacNamara, CEO of Advance.

You can further capitalise on this talent by getting them to head up mentoring and upskilling opportunities so their expertise can be carried on through the business. 

Drop the attitude

Advance’s annual They Still Call Australia Home survey of Australian professionals who’ve returned to the country and those that remain abroad, shows many don’t receive the professional welcome they’d hoped for when they arrive back on home soil.

“We see how difficult it is for those who have returned to find opportunities where they can present their credentials and have them accepted, understood and valued,” says MacNamara. “There’s quite a lot of talk of those who’ve had to hide overseas experience because it’s not regarded as relevant. There are people who’ve been told to keep it off their resume.”

Paul Simms, founder and director of Wright Executive, says he’s received many calls from newly-returned Australian candidates this year, but that they often face the challenge of “insular” employer attitudes. “Australians who have worked overseas come back as a more well-rounded and experienced individual, but I just think the Australian hiring market tends to be quite insular,” he says.

“Hiring managers are still hung up on [candidates] needing recent local experience doing exactly the same job that they want you to do for them.”

Matthew Gribble, regional director of Michael Page, believes the Australian market has become more open to international experience, but that “there’s still some way to go”.

“I think there’s a greater openness to that talent at professional and middle-management levels, but when you get into senior management, particularly in roles that value relationships and local networks, it seems harder for candidates to break through.”

A recent study by PwC shows Australian businesses lack a strong track record of external collaboration with just 7.7 per cent of Australian businesses collaborating with international firms while innovating products and/or processes. It also shows that 69 per cent of a survey group of 1,039 recently returned Australians did not collaborate with businesses or colleagues in Australia, with 25 per cent saying this is because Australian-based peers weren’t interested.

“I think it has come down to a lack of global ambition,” says MacNamara. “We’ve had such a good run for so many years, we haven’t had to try beyond our own shores and the global stuff that we’ve done is at the margins.

“So often, the global Australians who return find opportunity in high-growth companies that were born global, such as digital companies that have no intention of just being an Australian [company] in the Australian market.”


Make sure your hiring managers don’t fall victim to unconscious bias. AHRI’s online short course Managing Unconscious Bias is designed to help you recognise the prevalence and impact of these subconscious impressions and offers techniques to overcome it. Sign up for the next source on December 16 2020.


International attraction

If Australian businesses want to reset for success, attracting talent with global experience presents a huge opportunity. Gribble says the most practical way to attract them is to make them feel welcome.

 “Let it be known that you attract that talent and make it part of your story,” he says.

 “If you’ve hired Australians who have returned from overseas, or international candidates immigrating to Australia, tell the stories. Tell your recruitment partners that you want to see candidates with international experience.”

 MacNamara advises making the recruitment process central to plans for business transformation.

 “The key message from our research is that this is the single greatest opportunity this country has ever had in order to tap and keep a talent pool,” she says.

 “We broke our economy to save the population’s health and now we’re turning our attention to reviving the economy, so we have nothing to lose,” she adds. “And, fortunately, for those businesses that are serious about transformation, there’s now a larger pool of talent to help them do it.”

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Why you should embrace Australia’s ‘brain gain’


The country is experiencing an influx of Australians returning to their comparatively COVID-safe homes, or a ‘brain gain’. Experts say attracting this globally experienced talent should start by dropping insular attitudes.  

When COVID-19 began its devastating march across the globe in the early months of the year, the Federal Government urged Australians living abroad to return home. Of the million-strong diaspora, around 400,000 heeded the call, bringing with them skills and knowledge amassed in the global market that may prove vital on our road to economic recovery.

But experts say parochial attitudes to recruitment have long prevented local companies from tapping into this internationally experienced pool of talent. If the pandemic has put business transformation high on the agenda, it presents an opportunity too valuable to miss.

Recruiting to reset

Australia has long lamented a ‘brain drain’ of skilled professionals to foreign shores. For many of our top technology minds, for instance, opportunities in Silicon Valley are hard to match in Sydney, while financial services talent often head to more dynamic centres like London or New York. Thanks to COVID-19, however, that trend has been reversed and we’re seeing what’s being called a ‘brain gain’ as more Aussie workers move their lives back home and set out looking for local employment opportunities.

 Maria MacNamara, CEO of Advance, an organisation that helps Australians move and work around the globe, says local companies need global experience more than ever.

 If they’re just operating as they always have, there isn’t a need,” she says. “But after COVID, which companies will be returning to their old ways?

“If they want to transform their organisations, move to digital, clean up their service delivery, transact more online, upgrade the platforms through which they run their businesses, do more with the data they collect, and start using more sophisticated machine learning and AI, [they need to assess if] their existing employees had exposure to organisations that have been run that way?

“If not, they’ll need to employ the global Australians who’ve come out of organisations with that experience, and engage them to help accelerate the transformation process.”

“We broke our economy to save the population’s health and now we’re turning our attention to reviving the economy, so we have nothing to lose.” –  Maria MacNamara, CEO of Advance.

You can further capitalise on this talent by getting them to head up mentoring and upskilling opportunities so their expertise can be carried on through the business. 

Drop the attitude

Advance’s annual They Still Call Australia Home survey of Australian professionals who’ve returned to the country and those that remain abroad, shows many don’t receive the professional welcome they’d hoped for when they arrive back on home soil.

“We see how difficult it is for those who have returned to find opportunities where they can present their credentials and have them accepted, understood and valued,” says MacNamara. “There’s quite a lot of talk of those who’ve had to hide overseas experience because it’s not regarded as relevant. There are people who’ve been told to keep it off their resume.”

Paul Simms, founder and director of Wright Executive, says he’s received many calls from newly-returned Australian candidates this year, but that they often face the challenge of “insular” employer attitudes. “Australians who have worked overseas come back as a more well-rounded and experienced individual, but I just think the Australian hiring market tends to be quite insular,” he says.

“Hiring managers are still hung up on [candidates] needing recent local experience doing exactly the same job that they want you to do for them.”

Matthew Gribble, regional director of Michael Page, believes the Australian market has become more open to international experience, but that “there’s still some way to go”.

“I think there’s a greater openness to that talent at professional and middle-management levels, but when you get into senior management, particularly in roles that value relationships and local networks, it seems harder for candidates to break through.”

A recent study by PwC shows Australian businesses lack a strong track record of external collaboration with just 7.7 per cent of Australian businesses collaborating with international firms while innovating products and/or processes. It also shows that 69 per cent of a survey group of 1,039 recently returned Australians did not collaborate with businesses or colleagues in Australia, with 25 per cent saying this is because Australian-based peers weren’t interested.

“I think it has come down to a lack of global ambition,” says MacNamara. “We’ve had such a good run for so many years, we haven’t had to try beyond our own shores and the global stuff that we’ve done is at the margins.

“So often, the global Australians who return find opportunity in high-growth companies that were born global, such as digital companies that have no intention of just being an Australian [company] in the Australian market.”


Make sure your hiring managers don’t fall victim to unconscious bias. AHRI’s online short course Managing Unconscious Bias is designed to help you recognise the prevalence and impact of these subconscious impressions and offers techniques to overcome it. Sign up for the next source on December 16 2020.


International attraction

If Australian businesses want to reset for success, attracting talent with global experience presents a huge opportunity. Gribble says the most practical way to attract them is to make them feel welcome.

 “Let it be known that you attract that talent and make it part of your story,” he says.

 “If you’ve hired Australians who have returned from overseas, or international candidates immigrating to Australia, tell the stories. Tell your recruitment partners that you want to see candidates with international experience.”

 MacNamara advises making the recruitment process central to plans for business transformation.

 “The key message from our research is that this is the single greatest opportunity this country has ever had in order to tap and keep a talent pool,” she says.

 “We broke our economy to save the population’s health and now we’re turning our attention to reviving the economy, so we have nothing to lose,” she adds. “And, fortunately, for those businesses that are serious about transformation, there’s now a larger pool of talent to help them do it.”

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