Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ohio Fails Demography

Last week, I mentioned that brain drain policy tends to ignore the demographic data. This week, I'll move the discussion from Australia to Ohio and then shoot across The Pond to the United Kingdom. The US Census with the numbers:

So much for all the worrying about "brain drain" in Ohio. New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that a bigger problem just might be "middle age drain."

Over the last decade, the loss of middle-age Ohioans outpaced the drop in the state's young workers.

According to census figures released early Thursday, there was an 18 percent decline among the number of Ohioans ages 35 to 44. That amounts to 325,000 fewer people.

To be fair, the 25 to 34 cohort dropped 7%. That's the target market for state effort designed to keep talent from leaving. Slice up that information any way you want. It adds up to a problem. But Ohio is losing almost three times as many people in the 35 to 44 cohort.

The crux of last week's post concerned return migration. When a member of the younger cohort exited the country, she stood a good chance of returning. That isn't the case with those people in a later life stage (i.e. more established in career and family).

Outward mobility – the number of British students taking places at international universities – has become an area for research at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the British Council, within universities, and for the Government.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, then under a different name, commissioned a study exploring the motivations and experiences of UK students studying abroad. The review involved 560 questionnaires completed by UK students living and studying in the USA, Ireland, Australia, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. The report suggests the notion of brain drain is ill-founded: 76 per cent of surveyed students planned to return.

Fiona Smith, lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Applied Population Research at Dundee, worked on the report.

“About half of those we surveyed were engaged in postgraduate study, and half were in undergraduate study,” she explains. “Interestingly, those with the highest qualifications were the most likely to intend to return to the UK, either after they completed their course, or after a short period of working abroad.” Smith adds that there was a distinction between those who were studying abroad in order to migrate – which happens a lot when it comes to studying in Australia – and those who wanted to access particular expertise to develop their career and their personal skills. “Returning to the UK, for them, was part of that plan,” she says.

Skeldon says it’s important to consider the reality of migration, too. “We can look at whether the students who study overseas intend to come back, but what they actually do is another thing,” he says. He cites his own experience: “I went overseas to study as a postgraduate, but ultimately I came back. Expatriates are a minority of any population, and circumstances change. You may have elderly parents you want to support, for example – so it’s not just controlled by economic factors.”

I won't get into the domestic benefits of expatriates who stay abroad. I want to focus on the best talent retention strategies. The sweet spot is 35-44, not 25-34. I'm not aware of any effort in the United States that exclusively panders to this cohort. But if you want votes or lucrative speaking engagements, you best talk young adults. It isn't about efficacy so much as it is feeding the goose that lays the golden egg.

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