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Census reveals Bermudian ‘brain drain’

Young educated Bermudians have been leaving the Island in droves to seek employment in other countries, according to the Department of Statistics.

The Island’s political parties, the civil servants union and the business community have all expressed concern at the news — with the Opposition Progressive Labour Party pledging to cooperate with the Government in getting Bermudians to return or stay home to develop their careers.

In a first of a kind analytical brief, the Department reports that 1,121 persons emigrated from Bermuda between 2000 and 2010. Seventy percent of the emigrants were Bermudian, while 27 percent were non-Bermudian and employment was the main reason cited as to why they were leaving the Island.

Nearly half of the Bermudians (47 percent) leaving left for reasons of employment.

But “family” was cited by 25 percent of the emigrants as a reason for leaving, and another 18 percent of respondents indicated that a range of other factors which prompted their departure, including affordability, retirement, “to exercise the right of free establishment”, and crime.

With a median age of 28 the emigrants were also a fairly young group. Fifty-three percent of the Bermudian emigrants were degree holders, 83 percent of whom were under the age of 35.

The analysis was based on data collected during the 2010 Census.

The US and the UK were destinations of choice for the emigrants.

About a third of the emigrants were professionals, while another 19 percent were service and sales workers.

The data also shows that the emigration, at 41 percent, was highest between 2007 and 2009. But a greater proportion of non-Bermudians (55 percent) left the Island during this period than Bermudians (36 percent).

“The brief also highlights the impact of the loss of skilled human resources or ‘the brain drain’, as a result of persons leaving the island to reside overseas,” a Department of Statistics release stated this afternoon.

“This is the first time a census has collected information on Bermuda’s former residents who have emigrated abroad.”

The brief concludes: “The data shows that emigrants 16 years and older were most likely to have degrees, resulting in brain drain.”

A Government spokesperson said that the statistics “reinforces the Premier’s concerns regarding the amount of people who have left the Island, which is why one of the main objectives of this government is job creation”.

And One Bermuda Alliance chairman Thad Hollis said that the party and its leader were well aware that the Island was facing a brain drain.

“The brain drain was one of the reasons our leader Craig Cannonier chose to use his swearing in ceremony at Government House the day after the election to urge Bermudians living abroad to ‘come back to us …. to build the better Bermuda we know we can build,’” he said in an e-mailed statement.

“Mr Cannonier, as new Premier, issued the call because Bermuda needs its ‘best and brightest’ now more than ever.”

He said: “One of the most disturbing statistics released today was the high percentage of young Bermudian degree holders who had left the Island for opportunities abroad. That one statistic — 83% of emigrant degree holders were under 35 of age — underscores the seriousness of the ‘brain drain’ threat to Bermuda’s long-term well-being.

“Our focus going forward is to maximise the skills and talent of Bermudians in a collective effort to make the Island work better for all our people. As new Premier Cannonier said at his swearing-in ceremony: “Let this be the start of Bermuda’s renaissance.”

The Opposition PLP said that the “brain drain” statistics were “concerning” but not “entirely surprising”.

“With the impact of the worldwide global recession, many young Bermudians have left to find alternate employment in the US and the UK. Whether they have been successful in their search is another story, however, the bottom line is that these are Bermudians who have felt the need to leave their homeland for other territories, and that is concerning,” the PLP statement said.

“We implore the Government to consider ways that we can encourage Bermudian young people to return to Bermuda and/or stay in Bermuda and develop their careers. There is no easy solution to this problem, however as the Opposition, we pledge our assistance and cooperation in this awesome task.

“We also encourage the business community to step up and provide entry level and apprentice level opportunities for young Bermudians. There are many young Bermudians who are abroad in universities or trade schools. They need to feel that there are opportunities for them in their land of birth.

“We must also ensure that young Bermudians are given adequate preparation so they are qualified and capable of competing in the labour market."

Kevin Grant, president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, said that he was alarmed that 70 percent of the emigrants were Bermudians and at the proportion of them who were under the age of 35.

Mr Grant noted that 36 percent of the unemployed were between the ages of 16 to 24.

But he speculated that the emigration data could also be related to gang activity “which has seen a number of young black males relocating in the UK”.

“However, it cannot be denied that there are a large number of our young Bermudians who are going to college, completing their studies getting degrees, (and many of them master degrees) coming back home to Bermuda and cannot find a job.

“Bermuda at this time could be experiencing what I would call ‘youth flight’ whereby young, qualified professionals have to leave their home countries to seek better opportunities.

“So surely when we consider the suspension of term limits or the elimination of them all together, Government must seek to achieve a balance whereby our young qualified Bermudian workers are given equal opportunity. Having our young workers leave the country can lead to serious ramifications in the long run.”

But the loss of jobs has been “accelerating since 2008 — the sixth full year since (six-year) work permit term limits were introduced,” said Diane Newman, Chamber Economics Committee chairperson.

“The study released today illustrates clearly that educated people — the sort of people who we need to have in the workforce in order to attract business investment to the Island, and the sort of people who would create new businesses themselves — are going elsewhere. This is a major concern,” she said.

“Another concern is the age of the people who are leaving. It illustrates that entry-level jobs are disappearing for educated young Bermudians. ABIC chairman George Hutchings has said that accounting is the only profession where a young Bermudian graduate can be confident of finding entry-level work now.

“It also should raise concerns about the state of our government and other pension plans. Without young workers to pay into them, these plans could come up short when the current cohort of older workers begin to retire.”

The Bermuda Employers Council also appeared to blame emigration of non Bermudians on the former Government’s term limits policy.

“Emigration by non-Bermudians appears to coincide with the setting in of the reality of the former Government’s term limits policy which compounded problems in the recession that came afterwards.

“It was predicted that persons would not stay in Bermuda with the uncertainty of their future and many moved on with their families,” said BEC president Keith Jensen.

Mr Jensen added: “It was very disappointing to see Bermudian professionals move away when employment opportunities were amply available prior to the onslaught of the economic recession.

“On the other hand, it shows the extent of opportunities and the demand for Bermudians and non-Bermudians professionals in the global workforce.

“Work experience abroad does place Bermudians in a good position if they return to the Island. The number of non-professional Bermudians leaving for employment shows how some countries welcome our citizens for jobs in their countries.

“It will be useful in due course to compare this emigration data with the turnover of work permit holders, which we understood was much higher in a six-year period.”

Report highlights

Census 2010 emigration population highlights

l A total of 1,121 people emigrated from Bermuda between 2000 and 2010

Median age of the emigrants was 28

Emigration flows highest (41 percent) during 2007 and 2009

Nearly half (47 percent) of emigrants who were Bermudians left for employment reasons

More than half or 53 percent of Bermudian emigrants held degrees

Almost three out of 10 emigrants 16 years and older held professional occupations

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Published January 24, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 24, 2013 at 12:19 am)

Census reveals Bermudian ‘brain drain’

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