Overseas experience an asset for all

THE brain drain is the best thing that can happen to Australia.

The collective hand ringing which has been going on about our best and brightest leaving to work overseas is completely misplaced.

The real issue – the critical factor – for our future is our success in attracting these travellers back home.

They leave with brains and potential. In the old world those were valuable assets, but today they are not even half the equation.

They may have had years of formal training, but that is just the start for workers in a knowledge economy.

Experience in the global “hotspots” for their particular industry, to learn leading-edge practices and to build their professional networks is what is needed. Rather than complaining about them leaving, we should be encouraging them onto the planes.

Those who have the combination of skills, global experience and networks are the people who will be the catalysts for building healthy knowledge sectors.

Trying to slow down the flow of qualified people overseas is a recipe for setting in stone the world’s view of Australia as an economy just living off our natural assets rather than leveraging them into smart industries.

The case of Gary Millard is a classic example.

In 1971, having finished body design engineering training at General Motors Holden in Melbourne, Gary Millard set off for Europe for a working holiday.

Travelling through Bavaria in Germany, Mr Millard inquired with Audi about working with the firm. He was offered a position as body engineer and spent eight years there, developing his skills and gaining an excellent insight into the industry.

In 1981 he left to establish his own automotive design firm in Munich, servicing a range of clients both in Germany and in other countries.

By 1987, Mr Millard’s children had reached high school age. He was confronted with the decision of whether he wanted them to grow up as Germans or Australians. he decided to sell the business and to move back to Victoria.

After a year living in semi-retirement outside Melbourne, Mr Millard decided to resume his career and to establish himself in business again. Millard Design opened its doors in 1989 offering automotive design services to the local industry.

Through the 1990s, the company’s client list grew, particularly to Asian manufacturers, many of whom had employed engineers and design staff from the Bavarian companies.

In the decade since Millard Design established itself in Australia, the firm has grown to 200 staff with a client base around the world.

If the current thinking had captured Gary Millard 30 years ago he would probably still be at General Motors, which may have been to the company’s benefit, but not delivered even a sniff of the results he has achieved taking the global path.

Rather than trying to put a clamp down on wanderlust, we should be tracking our graduates’ progress, cheering them on as they succeed overseas and then working hard to get them back. More than a new processing plant or a multinational’s regional headquarters, these skilled globally experienced workers are – and will be – the most valuable assets any country has.

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