Time for a talent retention strategy at country level

A recurring topic of conversation nowadays is: Why are so many Mauritians choosing to leave the country and look for greener pastures abroad? Recent statistics do sound alarming. Some might say: look on the bright side! Mauritius has probably become one of the top producers and exporters of manpower in the world. But at what cost?

At the onset, let me concede that Talent Retention is a phrase predominantly associated with the business/corporate world and the term ‘Talent’ is often (mis)interpreted as referring to only a few lucky ones. Over the last few years, research and surveys carried out amongst CEOs worldwide place ‘Talent’ as the single most critical success factor for the future of businesses. This article makes a bold attempt at arguing that the same principle can also be applied to a country. In this context, ‘Talent’ would broadly encompass professional capabilities, critical skills, and key competencies required to make a country grow and prosper.

Root causes 

The first step in defining an effective strategy is to understand the underlying root causes in an objective way.

Therefore, let us address the elephant in the room. Objectively speaking, ‘brain drain’ is not a new phenomenon in itself. For more than half a century, our education system has encouraged our brightest students to leave Mauritius for higher education in some of the best universities in the world. A large majority of them have never returned to serve the country which was initially the fundamental condition attached to state-funded scholarships. 

Over the last two decades, however, more and more citizens (other than students) have made the choice to leave the country and the reasons behind have evolved dramatically. 

Here are some possible root causes to consider:

  1. School leavers have a much wider choice of options available in terms of universities and more households can now afford to pay tertiary education fees;
  2. New destinations have opened the floodgates to attract experienced and professional immigrants from all over the world e.g. Canada;
  3. Free access to information and accelerated communications have broken down barriers and opened new windows to the world out there and globalisation has generated new opportunities in terms of mobility;
  4. Growing concerns around socioeconomic vulnerability and fragility amongst larger portions of the population;
  5. The prevailing political climate in the country does not inspire trust, wellbeing and prosperity amongst a growing number of citizens across all age groups. Mainly caused by poor leadership of successive governments, numerous blunders and outdated systems which no one seems to be willing to change.

Common trigger

In my humble view, the common fundamental question that triggers the decision to leave the country is: Do I believe that Mauritius has a bright future ahead?
What keeps human beings alive when faced with the toughest challenges and when almost everything seems to be lost? The answer is Hope.

Sadly, many Mauritians have lost hope that Mauritius is the place to be for a better future for them or for their children. And when you lose hope you become desperate. And when you become desperate, you fall into a survival mode. Your thinking process is overshadowed by your basic survival instinct – need for food and shelter. You either give up on your ambition and become indifferent to your surroundings or you look for ways to get out of this survival mode and escape as fast (and as far) as possible. 

Components of the strategy

What gives people Hope? How to bring Hope back?
In corporate terms we can call it recognition, growth, honesty, integrity. In human terms, we can call it feeling worthy, important, loved. Having a sense of purpose.
Here are a few suggested areas to help pave the way forward:

a) Set the base for a future-ready Mauritian Talent pool

Education should be the Priority #1. 

  • One of the strongest indicators of a healthy society is how successful we are in attracting our best graduates in teaching. The quality of a country’s education can only be as good as the quality of its teachers.
  • Artificial intelligence is changing the way we learn and process information. Our education system – curriculum, learning methods, timetables, etc. should be overhauled to adapt to new technology and keep up with education innovation happening elsewhere.
  • How useful are the skills we teach at school in today’s workplace? In order to develop and grow new economic activities, we need skills and expertise in new sectors such data science, telemedicine or AI. We should attract more students into STEM subjects and coding skills should be taught in primary schools.

b) Address the skills mismatch once and for all

Let’s be honest. Over the last 10 years, we have failed to address and solve the skills mismatch issue despite several initiatives. We live in a paradox where we have less than 8% unemployment rate and companies are permanently struggling to find people for entry level jobs. 

We should introduce technology-enabled, data-driven Manpower Forecast and Supply & Demand mechanisms at country level across all economic sectors under the responsibility of a National Employment Agency (NEA). 

  • The NEA should be a one-stop shop for registration, employment counselling, training and placement of jobseekers. Inspired on existing European models e,g. the French ‘Pole Emploi’. It should be run as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and should be the central source of statistics for employment and skills.
  • Set up a specialised institution under the NEA to run assessment centres, proactively upskill and create bridges between sectors for swift deployment of resources into high demand sectors.

c) Reimagine jobs and the workplace culture

Earlier this year, Business Mauritius launched a National Employee Engagement Survey across all economic sectors in Mauritius. The results and findings of this survey should be utilised in formulating standards and guidelines on the factors which impact most significantly on employee engagement in the workplace.

The Government’s initiative to allow employees to have a secondary income as well as flexible timings but we need more. Some people are able to do more and they should be allowed to do so without the fear of losing their jobs just because they take up a secondary employment after hours. The costs and administration should be made more flexible and affordable for microbusinesses and SMEs.

Success factors

The success of this Talent Retention strategy will depend on some key performance indicators: 

  • A compelling vision for the country
  • Exemplary leadership based on integrity and honesty
  • Fairness and equity in opportunities and rewards – in both reality and perception
  • Enhanced quality of life and value for money for every citizen
  • A culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and continuous growth

Author: Krishan Deeljore
[email protected]

Krishan Deeljore is the Founder of BI Instruments, a boutique consulting firm providing advisory services to clients in the Indian Ocean, Middle East and East Africa regions.

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