Let’s Talk… Brain Drain


Losing great Aussie talent to overseas companies is a reality for many small businesses and startups. Working in Silicon Valley may sound like a very attractive prospect but don’t fear Australian businesses can compete. The answer? Making the work culture too good to refuse. Some starting points can include: ensuring staff feel cared about, have growth opportunities and flexibility.

Dynamic Business had a chat to experts about how the business community can prevent the lost of talent to overseas companies.


Phil Silverstone, General Manager, Asia Pacific, Eventbrite:

Is Silicon Valley a more attractive prospect than Australia for a graduate tech developer or engineer? On the face of it, probably. But there’s no reason Australian employers can’t compete. With an expanding homegrown talent pool, there’s never been a better time for local businesses to make their move and design the kind of dynamic, innovative and inclusive workplaces that top graduates are seeking, to ensure our best and brightest are motivated to stay in Australia.

Local businesses would be wise to think like Silicon Valley in terms of the benefits, perks and culture on offer. Mind you, it’s not all about ping pong tables and bean bags – Eventbrite Australia offers flexible working arrangements, a wellness benefit, transport stipend, catered meals, outstanding parental leave and the freedom to work remotely, to all staff.

It’s also about the experience employees gain. At Eventbrite, our team take on roles of broad responsibility and have opportunities for growth far accelerated beyond what’s available elsewhere. Ultimately it’s a path for personal growth that will retain talent on Aussie shores and not give them cause to look elsewhere.

Scott Price, Founder and CEO, PropertyShares: 

A number of people think that we lose talent overseas because of better salaries and office perks like Facebook lunches. The reality is that good quality talent is hungry to work on high quality projects and for companies with a robust company culture.

That is why here in Australia we need to focus on creating companies that appeal to a new generation of thinkers and doers. We need to work on problems that deserve the time of these innovators who not only want to solve interesting problems but feel empowered when they do it.

Jonathan Plowright, Founder and CEO, Typsy:

As a business owner, I guarantee you’ve noticed that the workforce is changing. Your older, experienced employees are retiring, meaning younger employees are getting ready to fill their shoes – this is particularly evident in the hospitality industry, where millennials often start off in the workforce.

It’s important to fulfil the workplace needs of your younger, hungrier employees, as they will predominantly shape how future business communities will operate. How do we do it, and ensure we retain our younger talent to overseas competitors? Here are three ways:

On-going training and development opportunities: Millennials want to be challenged, to learn and to grow. When they don’t, they become disengaged and non-committal. Ensure you provide constant learning and development opportunities so you don’t lose them.

Keeping up with the technological times: Millennials have grown up with technology, so it makes sense to use it in their learning and training. For example, focusing on online video as a learning method is a great step forward.

Improving staff engagement: Putting your employees first will result in a positive work culture, increased engagement and a reduced turnover rate. Why? Staff who enjoy being in their workplace are more likely to stay than those who don’t.

This is why Typsy believes that providing training opportunities to hospitality staff is one of the best incentives you can offer. Whether they are new in the industry or your most experienced staff member, the more your staff know, the more your business can grow.

Charles Tidswell, Vice President for JAPAC, Socialbakers:

Businesses need to think globally and act locally. This means giving their employees the tools and possibility to work in a regional or global role without having to relocate elsewhere. Thanks to technology, businesses no longer face barriers to going global and the same is true for the workforce. Giving employees access to technology that enables global collaboration and the flexibility to work across different times zones means employees looking for an international experience are more likely to stay in Australia to have it.

Mick Spencer, CEO, ONTHEGO:

With the growth of emerging competition, the ability to have an entire workforce offshore, and global players taking “local gems”, companies need to focus on building a robust growth path for staff and talent to ensure that they feel fully engaged. Strong leadership and an engaged workforce can really help build up future talent. At OTG, we foster employee engagement by offering our staff members more than just a pay check. Some of the things we do is incentivise our staff members with the opportunity to earn staff shares, offer a very close tight knit work place culture, and encourage a very autonomous way of working. Empowering our employees to run “mini business’” within the business is rewarding for both our staff members and the business.

Peter Gardiner, Executive Managing Partner (Specialist Services), Findex:

I often hear colleagues bemoan the loss of Australian talent overseas, yet this loss of talent from the Australia is not restricted to Australians. The difficulty in retaining emerging overseas talent for entry-level positions due to our ever-tightening visa restrictions.

This year, I became involved with Saltire, an international program run by Entrepreneurial Scotland, connecting business leaders with the next generation of Scots afflicted with Wanderlust.

Hannah Gailey joined our Consulting team earlier this year as an intern. She’s truly been amazing, consistently impressing clients and colleagues alike with all she does.

However, when it came time to finding her a more permanent role, the myriad of complicated and challenging regulations has meant we may lose a bright star to a competitor in Europe.

If Australia wants to stop the brain-drain, or diaspora, we need to make ourselves a more accessible market to the international talent pool. We hamstring ourselves by only allowing talent to enter at later career stages, while we continue to see our school leavers take overseas opportunities. These arbitrary rules are stopping Australia from tapping into a wealth of emerging talent.

Emma Lo Russo, CEO, Digivizer:

Australia has just 0.33% of the world’s population – so you could argue that we have to work 99 times harder than any other country to fight for talent! There are three aspects to combating brain drain:

1) Build great talent from the start of our education process, to ensure we have the most relevant, powerful, and the widest pipeline of great talent.

2)  We can attract great talent from overseas as well as within Australia, by offering opportunities they will find appealing, stimulating, future-relevant, that allow them to make a difference, and which tap their skills in ways they find rewarding.

3) Retaining talent, ensuring the opportunities are more valuable on balance than anything else on offer elsewhere.  That requires us to think and act globally at government and business levels, to focus on how are we building a great place to work, to live, to want to create growing businesses.  If we can answer why anyone, anywhere in the world would want to start and grow a business here, and embed those incentives and cultural aspects at every level, we will be attracting talent, not just stopping the drain away from us.

Alex Alexandrou, General Manager, Reckon:

To be frank, the brain drain in Australia is quite a marginal phenomenon compared to the rest of the world. Where this collapses however is in the areas of science, engineering, technology and research. We can reframe this question of a brain drain as Australia having an innovation problem.

Where there is no innovation, less money for research and fewer high profile job opportunities, we lose our best and brightest to countries who will support them. Where are the grants and opportunities for home grown research and Australian science jobs? Here, the federal government has a lot to answer for, with Australia’s research and innovation budget being cut by a further $8 billion over the next four years after having already been decimated by several billion dollars of cuts over the years prior. The business community needs to raise their voice to those in parliament to curb this innovation crippling defunding, which will inevitably lead to a weak local industry, an infertile ground for associated business and a lack of career options for Australians.