Three graphs that map Australia's 'brain drain'

Our talent is escaping overseas, but should we be concerned?

Graph for Three graphs that map Australia's 'brain drain'

Classifieds have gone global, and so have our job seekers. Image: NewsCorp

Australia’s start-ups are worried about it. Our scientists are worried about it. Even Telstra CEO David Thodey has raised concerns about it. So should we all be anxious about a brain drain in Australia?

There’s a pervading fear in Australia that our best and brightest are failing to find opportunities locally and are instead vying for work overseas.

Recent data from global job search firm Indeed suggests that these concerns aren't completely unwarranted. More and more Australian job-seekers are turning their gaze abroad. According to recent data, around one in four job seekers in Australia is searching for work abroad.

The majority are searching for roles in the US. But surprisingly -- despite what we hear about Australians either escaping to the US or the UK -- a number of locals are looking jobs in both India and Japan.

Indeed country manager Chris McDonald says that the searches in Japan are primarily for graduate or mature age positions. As for India, he says that job seekers are largely looking up finance, IT focused or operations roles. And in both cases, McDonald adds that the figures may be indicative of university graduates looking for jobs back in their home country.

He also adds that the company’s findings have a level of weight, given that they draw their sample from around 2 million active Australian users and almost 9 million job searches per month. Also, keep in mind that Indeed offered us normalised data rather than the raw search numbers. All the figures are scaled so that the highest total in the table (US job searches by US residents) equals one million. Data jargon aside, this simply means that the most accurate way to represent these figures is in percentages rather than as total search numbers. 

In this sense, it’s curious that China isn’t represented in the data, given that it the largest portion of our international student body is from the country and according to the data, China represent around 20 per cent of Indeed’s total pool of job ads. Indeed wasn’t able to clarify this anomaly in time for this story, but says it will provide a response for a later piece on Australians migrating to China for work.

Interestingly, without seeing the original data, the University of Canberra’s Director Centre for Labour Market Research Phil Lewis also assumes that Indeed metrics are indicative of graduates returning home. He argues however, that calling this a ‘brain drain’ is the wrong way of framing the issue.

He instead refers to it as a ‘brain share’, arguing that graduates or workers who take their Australian experiences abroad are more likely to spur on globalisation opportunities for the country. They also often end up returning, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and experience back into Australia’s talent pool.

Lewis also argues that migration works in waves, and that what is lost in Australian talent is often replaced by overseas talent moving to Australia for employment opportunities or a better standard of living. This trend was also indicative in Indeed’s data, though -- perhaps giving weight to those fearing a ‘brain drain’ -- only 10 per cent of searches for all Australian jobs ads were from workers overseas. 

Got a question? Let us know in the comments below or contact the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter.