During my school days, Brain Drain used to be one of the most popular topics in debates. It also found a place in most of the essay books available in the market. Everybody seemed to be very concerned about the way our best students were leaving for foreign lands to pursue better opportunities. I remember that most people around me seemed to be of the opinion that leaving one's motherland permanently after growing up using her resources was a heinous crime and we should look down upon the NRIs. On looking back now, I'm sure many of these people would sing a different tune had they got the chance to go abroad... but that's a different story.
Then over the last decade India became an IT superpower. The much coveted American and European jobs started being outsourced to India. Many multinational companies opened their own development centres in India too. Probably that is why these days the term brain drain is heard a lot less... the jobs worth draining for are coming right up to the brains. People are getting nice salaries sitting right here in India. So as far as India is concerned, brain drain was a nightmare that is over, right?
Let us analyze the situation a bit more closely. There were two kinds of people who left for the US after their studies. One, who wanted to earn lots and lots of money; and two, who wanted to do challenging work in an intensely satisfying work environment. Retaining the first group was never difficult: give them money and they will stay anywhere you want. The second group was more problematic, though. This group actually contained some of the best brains in the country. To retain them here, challenging jobs with good work environment would have to be providd. However, even this group started staying back in India when the American companies started on their outsourcing spree. Now students of technical courses had Indian companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Satyam etc. looking for them. As the competition in the market increased, so did the salaries. So the students were now getting well-paid jobs sitting in their colleges, and they were doing the work that their dream companies had outsourced.
But recently, another problem has raised its ugly head in this seemingly perfect scenario. Over the last couple of years, thanks to the improving US economy, Indian software companies have expected more and more work. So much so that they are now biting off more than they can chew. They have been recruiting like anything in anticipation of projects which often didn't turn up, and so their recruits are now filling the bench or freepool (according to the term preferred by their respective companies). But they can't stop recruiting lest the better brains were recruited by their competitors.
I prefer to call this Brain Hoarding. In principle it is no different from the hoarding of some essential commodity... say rice. I may buy and hoard rice in my house in anticipation of a famine. But what if that famine doesn't come? I'll be preventing the proper utilization of that rice. The scenario in Indian software companies is very similar at the moment. Each company is vying with its competitors to take more and more brains on board. All the larger companies maintain this army of backups, or shadows, or bench/ free pool people. But what about the proper uitilization of those brains. What about their dreams and aspirations? True, a person gets his full salary on the bench, but it's about the only thing he gets. He gains no experience, acquires no skills to speak of, and most importantly, suffers a tremendous setback in terms of confidence and self esteem. Most of these companies make their employees sign a bond during appointment which prevents them from leaving the company without paying a hefty amount.
Wasn't brain drain better than this? At least the brains of the young generation of our country were being utilized, even if for another country. To quote a cliche: Brain drain is better than brains in the drain. According to me, brain drain is actually preferable to our young generation wasting their time and talent "on the bench". So it's not a nightmare but a dream, and one which many of us hope isn't over yet...
I was discussing this idea with my friend Shree the other day and comparing this trend of over-recruiting with hoarding. A statement that he made in jest would be a fitting line to end this post, and would also emphasize the danger of "brain hoarding" as a solution to brain drain.
He said, "If left unutilized, sooner or later the hoarded rice will rot."