- IPS calls for formulation of mix of policies to address labour and skill shortages
- Says authorities must identify labour market needs and efforts at talent attraction and retention
- Suggests three avenues to address ongoing brain drain, one of which is potential rollout of ‘payback’ concept
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
As Sri Lanka continues to deal with the outflux of its talent pool, largely owing to the prevailing economic conditions, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) stressed the need to look at designing an appropriate mix of policies to address labour and skill shortages at the earliest.
For this, the relevant authorities must identify labour market needs and efforts at talent attraction and retention, the Colombo-based think tank highlighted.
“This approach encourages the Sri Lankan diaspora abroad to engage in national recovery and development, exploring options to attract foreign workers, devise appropriate migration and regulatory policies, among others,” the IPS said in its State of the Economy 2023 report.
The report suggests three avenues to address the ongoing brain drain, which is crippling sectors such as health.
The first is to roll out the concept of ‘payback’ for the cost of human capital and loss of opportunity for another student, which could involve paying back through labour/service or financial paybacks.
Many developing countries are adopting mandatory service periods, specially in the medical field. In Sri Lanka, the payback concept currently operates mainly in lieu of any foreign training received and largely overlooks the cost of human capital investment.
Since the financial component is considered cannot be comparable to the cost borne, the IPS noted these payback calculations need to be updated to account for human capital received in Sri Lanka or overseas as well as to make them commensurate with the market value of the cost borne. The mechanism for collection of payback also needs to be foolproof to ensure that all beneficiaries of state-funded human capital development pay back in a fair manner, it said. The second suggestion to address brain drain is to overcome the geographical boundaries through virtual connectivity, where the respective sending country engages high-skilled migrants to continue to benefit from their expertise.
“Modern technological advancements have enabled individuals worldwide to connect instantaneously at very low costs and the new normal under the pandemic has provided a good beta test,” the IPS noted. The report highlighted that Sri Lanka’s health sector can continue to benefit from professionals educated in Sri Lanka and now working in developed countries to be involved in remote surgeries, mentor students and perform virtual health clinics, among other.
The report went on to note that migrant workers in other sectors can also contribute remotely, such as in the IT and education sectors.
The third suggestion put forward is to harness the potential of brain circulation and focus on attracting high-skilled migrants, mainly at the time of retirement. Given the high skills and professional experience of these migrants, who are likely to be high-net-worth individuals upon their return, the IPS said Sri Lanka needs to offer well-crafted services and professional opportunities that would allow them to contribute to national recovery and growth efforts.