Future Focus

Overseas Attractions

By Jennifer Schramm Dec 1, 2006

HR Magazine, December 2006

China's and India's fast-growing economies may drain talent from the U.S. workforce.

Recently, the World Future Society, an educational association in Bethesda, Md., released its Outlook 2007 report, setting forth trends that experts see in areas such as business, the economy, demographics and technology. In addition, Outlook 2007 included a special report on India and China.

The experts say India and China will surpass the United States and Japan as world economic powers within the next 30 years. In fact, it is expected that China soon will pass the United States as the world’s leading consumer, and the global economy will experience “intense China-fication” over the coming years.

Implications of China’s growing influence in world markets and over currencies are widely discussed, as are concerns that economic growth and demands on resources by China and India will have adverse environmental effects worldwide.

A separate issue arises for HR professionals responsible for recruiting and retaining skilled workers: Some futurists are saying that expanding foreign economies, particularly China’s and India’s, will draw young people to seek opportunities abroad, and Generation Y—those born from 1977 to 1997—may be the first generation in U.S. history to migrate overseas in large numbers.

The loss of young U.S. workers to other countries would be of prime concern because they would be needed at home to replace the large numbers of baby boomers who will be retiring as the population ages. Moreover, the workers in Generation Y who would be most likely to migrate would be those in greatest demand—the most entrepreneurial and the most skilled.

In fact, a migration of skilled young workers from the United States may already be under way. There is some anecdotal evidence that many Indian and Chinese natives who have studied and worked in the United States are returning to their home countries to set up businesses.

Meanwhile, migration of highly educated and skilled foreign nationals to the United States continues. Although foreign-student enrollments leveled off following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States still draws the largest number of foreign students. This in turn gives the country an advantage in attracting highly skilled and educated foreign talent, since foreign students—those returning to India and China notwithstanding—often remain and take jobs in the countries where they studied.

If the futurists are right and greater numbers of U.S. workers in Generation Y choose to work abroad for long periods, it may reflect not only Asian economies’ growing power but also an increase in global mobility among skilled knowledge workers—and the need for employers and HR professionals to do more to attract and retain their employees who are most in demand.

Jennifer Schramm is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at the Society for Human Resource Management.

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