The importance of diversifying our employment experience
In the 1960s, the large migration waves of skilled labor from developing countries (particularly India) to more favorable geographic, economic or professional environments became a phenomenon known as “brain drain.” The expression carried with it many negative connotations, especially when viewed through the economic lens of developing countries, whose citizens contributed considerable sums in taxes to the higher education institutions that trained professionals such as doctors, architects and engineers.
Regardless of the economic debate around the migration of skilled labor and whether or not it was detrimental to a developing nation’s growth or to the job market in the recipient country, the true fascination with the phenomenon, at least in my opinion, lies not in the collective movement and its economic impact, but in the metamorphosis of the individuals subjected to the experience of migration and its impact on their growth and development. On an individual level, “brain drain” was in fact a source of personal and professional enrichment for those brave enough to choose to hone their skills and compete in a global job market.
In today’s economy, the movement of labor has become more common and ever more fluid. The growth of the shared economy has blurred out any remains of borders and altered everything we thought we knew about the world order. This disruption, which has shaken the global economy, forces one to rethink the expression “brain drain” and replace it with the more fitting “brain globalization.” This recognizes that the international mobility of skilled human capital has become an integral part of life in today’s global economy.
Furthermore, with youth unemployment soaring (particularly in Arab countries), individuals are left with little choice but to widen the scope in their search for job opportunities. More than ever, a global mindset and outlook is rapidly becoming a valuable asset on an individual level, and one that can open career doors anywhere in the world. So, how can we promote a global mindset in the countries of the Arabian Gulf (and elsewhere) and equip their people with the qualities that will both widen their horizons and enrich their professional lives?
In an article published by Arab News in February, I proposed investing more in nationwide strategies to encourage multilingualism due to the many opportunities it can provide. In a largely globalized and connected world, every new language you learn is a ticket into a new country’s job market (or several if you choose a language spoken in different parts of the world).
A few years ago, I was a development worker managing a number of programs in French-speaking African countries, and my employer found it beneficial to invest in French classes for the team. Not only did this help us communicate better with our counterparts in other countries, but it represented a long-term asset we would carry with us no matter where our career paths took us. Learning a new language is perhaps the best way to increase your international employability. Oliver Watson, managing director for the UK, North America and the Middle East at Michael Page, the recruitment firm, recently stated that: “Companies are operating over so many international boundaries, so the more languages and experience with different cultures you can bring to a company, the more you can help expand its global reach.”
Seeking employment and internship opportunities in foreign countries will not only expose you to the realities of global job markets, but will also give you an indication of what skills you need to develop to increase your chances of finding employment in different countries. My seven years at a Dubai-based non-profit organization exposed me to global realities outside of my comfort zone. The years spent visiting different countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America not only reshaped my view of the world, but gave me and my colleagues significant added value, and made us employable on an international level.
In today’s world, having the skill set that will get you a job in your local market is no longer feasible; individuals must acquire skills, knowledge and experience that are relevant and competitive in the larger global market. Every once in a while, it might be useful to search and apply for jobs online in different countries to help you locate any areas you need to work on to increase your competitiveness internationally.
Modern technology has made both physical and virtual travel to other countries a common and simple reality. People of a shared interest or profession are connected via virtual communities across the globe, and are constantly up-to-date about any upcoming networking events and conferences or workshops. With budget airlines, Booking.com and Airbnb and the likes, in addition to video conferencing and live video sharing, there is no limit to the exposure you can get as an individual to worldwide events and networks. Making the time to attend such events can enrich people with larger international networks in their areas of interest, and can certainly open doors for future personal and professional development opportunities.
As individuals, we should seek every chance to develop and venture into foreign markets, expanding and diversifying our experiences in the process.
Maria Hanif Al-Qassim
Reading the global economic trends (such as the reversed flow of talent from west to east as emerging markets become more important), as well as the forging of new political alliances, can also help job-seekers strategically plan and prepare for their entry into the international job market. From Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s recent visit to Russia to the waiving of visa requirements for Emirati citizens by Canada, Brazil, Japan and other countries, the opportunities to plan for entire career paths are now more exciting than ever.
A recent graduate from an Abu Dhabi-based university can now download an app to learn Portuguese, join online communities interested in the coffee industry in Brazil, and travel to Sao Paulo aboard Emirates airline for a meeting with a few farmers looking to export their produce to the Gulf market. Whether wanting to be an entrepreneur or looking for an opportunity to become a consultant in a specific country, staying informed and actively planning for your future in the international job market is of key importance.
Human migration in search of opportunities for survival or a better life dates from well before the 1960s to the pre-modern times. From the migration of Homo sapiens from the African continent to the four corners of the earth, to the industrial era’s globalization of the labor market, humans have always been on the move, whether due to overpopulation, open agricultural frontiers, or rising industrial centers that attracted voluntary migrants.
It is time to accept that the migration of labor can and should represent an opportunity for the growth of individuals around the world, and is a positive characteristic of today’s economy. As individuals, we should seek every chance to develop and venture into foreign markets, expanding and diversifying our experiences in the process.
• Maria Hanif Al-Qassim is an Emirati from Dubai who writes on development, gender and social issues.