At a recent HR Forum organized by the CFA Society Sri Lanka in Colombo, Professor Prasadini Gamage from Kelaniya University's Human Resource Management department shared insights into the migration intentions of professionals in Sri Lanka. According to her, younger individuals in junior and mid-level managerial positions exhibited the strongest inclination to migrate.

Professor Gamage's observations were based on her extensive research study, titled 'Brain Drain in Developing Countries: Evidence from Sri Lanka.' She highlighted that professionals in industries such as human resources, information technology, and engineering displayed a pronounced intent to migrate. However, sectors like banking, finance, accountancy, marketing, and medicine showed a more divided stance.

The economic crisis emerged as a significant factor influencing migration decisions, according to the study. Interestingly, despite the intent to migrate, there was a glimmer of hope as thirty-eight percent of respondents expressed a willingness to return to Sri Lanka when the country achieves prosperity.

CFASSL President Aruna Perera drew parallels between the brain drain crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of proactive measures to manage and mitigate the impact. He likened it to 'flattening the curve,' suggesting that by implementing strategic measures, the migration wave could be extended over a more extended period, thereby easing the strain on local industries and organizations.

Arati Porwal, CFA Institute India Country Head, delved into the steps needed to transform the brain drain scenario into a 'brain pool.' She highlighted the role of CFA Institute and its flagship charter program in supporting this transformation. Focusing on the investment management and financial services industry, she identified key disruptors in workplace competencies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, an increased emphasis on sustainability, and evolving regulatory demands. These insights shed light on the complex interplay between professional aspirations, economic factors, and industry dynamics in the context of migration intentions among Sri Lankan professionals.

Addressing the critical issue of stemming the tide of brain drain, Arati Porwal emphasized key factors that could retain the younger population within the country. In her remarks, she highlighted the importance of a stable and growing economy, an attractive industry landscape, and a supportive environment for entrepreneurship. Above all, she stressed the necessity for inclusive investment and growth opportunities that guarantee the safety of hard-earned money, coupled with stable and reasonable return-generating investment tools.

Following Porwal's keynote speech, an insightful panel discussion unfolded, featuring industry leaders such as Professor Prasadini Gamage, Mano Sekaram (Founder of 99x), Ishan Dantanarayana (Director HR, Group & Country Head – Sri Lanka at Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd), Jehan Jeyaretnam (Global Head of Compliance and Country Head – Sri Lanka at Acuity Knowledge Partners), and Isuru Tillakawardana (Deputy General Manager – HRM at Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC). Moderated by Leo Fernando, CFA (Founder of Travel Lanka Compass), the panel delved into strategies to address the challenges posed by brain drain.

The panelists stressed the importance of companies adopting risk mitigation strategies, urging organizations to transparently communicate the real situation of the country. They drew upon historical resilience, emphasizing that, time and again, Sri Lanka has overcome similar challenges.

In discussing the contemporary competitive landscape, the panel agreed that talent remains the primary differentiator for organizations. Reflecting on past migration waves in the mid-1990s, particularly within the IT and apparel industries, they highlighted strategic decisions made by industry leaders to attract and retain talent, sometimes offering compensation above industry standards.

Noting the absence of a large captive talent pool compared to neighboring India, the panelists shared measures taken to build and recruit young talent. They underscored the importance of aligning compensation with training and development efforts, emphasizing that companies must recognize the global value of talent and compensate accordingly. As an example, they referenced qualifications like CFA, asserting that competitive compensation is essential to retaining individuals with skills in demand worldwide, within the affordability criteria of the local context.

During the panel discussion, several panelists shed light on internal initiatives within their organizations aimed at addressing the challenge of retaining talent. Notable efforts included re-alignment exercises of remuneration packages for both existing and prospective employees. Additionally, initiatives were highlighted that focused on ensuring that top performers receive clear and significant recognition from the organization for their valuable contributions.

Transitioning to the crucial role of organizational culture in talent attraction and retention, the panelists emphasized several key facets. They underscored the importance of fostering a positive and inclusive culture that not only attracts talent but also creates an environment where individuals feel motivated to stay and contribute to the organization's success.

In their closing remarks, the panelists stressed that the primary focus should be on those individuals who express the intention to stay within the country, believing in its future. They emphasized the need to work collaboratively with this group, acknowledging their commitment and aligning organizational strategies to support their aspirations.

The panelists concluded by highlighting the significance of recognizing the aspirations of the younger workforce. They emphasized the importance of augmenting the value proposition to create a balance between the expectations and goals of individuals and the objectives of the organizations they work for. This, they believed, would contribute to a more harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship, ultimately fostering an environment where both people and organizations thrive together.

In conclusion, the panel discussion provided a nuanced exploration of strategies to mitigate the challenges posed by brain drain, offering valuable insights into both internal organizational efforts and broader cultural considerations. The panelists underscored the significance of remuneration realignment exercises and recognition initiatives as internal mechanisms to retain and motivate talent.

Highlighting the pivotal role of organizational culture, the discussion emphasized the need for fostering environments that not only attract but also inspire employees to stay and contribute meaningfully. The focus on recognizing top performers and creating inclusive cultures emerged as key pillars in talent retention strategies.

In their closing remarks, the panelists directed attention towards those who express a commitment to staying in the country, stressing the importance of aligning organizational strategies with their aspirations. They advocated for collaborative efforts to rebalance the relationship between individuals and organizations, acknowledging the shared responsibility for success.

Ultimately, the panelists urged a proactive approach to meet the expectations of the younger workforce. They called for a reevaluation and enhancement of the value proposition, creating a symbiotic relationship where the goals of individuals align with the objectives of organizations. This collaborative mindset, they concluded, is essential for navigating the complexities of talent retention and ensuring a harmonious and mutually beneficial coexistence between people and organizations in the evolving landscape.