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Brain drain and salaries

The brain drain of students going abroad to complete high education is not a problem, but is a highly desirable process, a necessary and unavoidable step to achieve a world-class education.

The real problem is how to provide the conditions of attractiveness towards knowledge workers, ensuring that a good flow of highly educated people decide to move to your country for their professional careers, independently on where they were born.

This topic (‘war on talent’) has just been discussed in my panel at ‘Quantum Leap’ economics forum, organized today in Belgrade by the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, with the presence of the most relevant ministers and a public of 700 people.

Serbia is one of the least effective countries in the world, according to the recent World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index, in attracting and retaining talents; it suffers from a huge diaspora, the majority of its graduated leave the country.

As the keynote guest speaker, I was raised the question ‘What is attractive for knowledge workers? Maybe a high salary?

Salaries? It is definitely not the major factor.
I personally learned it, I have real data collected in my direct professional experience that I shared with the Serbian Government officials.

When, on behalf of the Dubai Government, I was the Executive Director of the Dubai Biotechnology Research Park, DuBiotech, we develop an attraction strategy based on the offer of salaries definitely higher than the European standard, and the tax-free environment added up an extra incentive making them extremely attractive.

But when DuBiotech finally became a real success story it was not because of the performances in terms of research activities and talented scientists on site, as very few research scientists were actually operating in the science park in spite of the excellent salaries offered.

The real success came only when we converted it into a free zone technology park, attracting global pharma and biomedical companies that decided to establish there their operations to exploit the strategic location and several other benefits.

Not many scientists around, but plenty of managers and office staff.
What was missing?

The answer comes with another story.

For five years I have been managing one of the biggest European biomedical science parks, the San Raffaele in Milan: a huge hospital with 1200 beds, a biomedical research center with 550 scientists, an internal university and a managing company dealing with intellectual property, business incubator, investments in start up, seed/venture capital, industrial research contracts, renting of lab space to biotech companies, etc. Everything under the same roof, in an European city well connected and with a significant international same community.

We were offering salaries aligned with the Italian academic standards, by far lower than those offered in the neighboring countries, for instance in Switzerland.

But in spite of it many talented scientists were knocking our doors, from allover the world, asking to work there and bringing their ideas and even their research grants.

When it comes to design attraction policies, you should think in the shoes of your target: don't make the common mistake that attracting talents, or knowledge workers, is like attracting investor.

Talented knowledge workers are outstanding individuals globally minded, capable of outstanding performances, often ambitious and competitive; they seek locations where their skills can be better exploited, their productivity maximized, their brain challenged by a multidisciplinary stimulation, their initiatives exploited by an environment with friendly legislation, meritocracy driven, connected to business and financial communities.

Attraction policies must be designed to create such an environment; proper salaries must be granted, but it is just one of the many issues.