African skills are poached: Manuel

23 October 2007

Africa and the rest of the developing world has become the training ground for developed nations in areas such as engineering, teaching, health services and the financial sector, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told delegates attending an Institute of International Finance event in Washington DC.

Manuel told the audience attending the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration held in the American capital on Sunday that he believed globalisation and growth had accentuated shortages of engineers, doctors and other skilled artisans.

“From the perspective of the South it seems that developed Western countries, who in their quest to save and minimise costs and maximise returns, are producing too few engineers, doctors and nurses to even meet their own demands,” he said.

“And so the developed world plunders developing countries for the skills that they have failed to create, and makes it more difficult or impossible for developing countries to reduce poverty and attain their development goals.”

He said developing countries had emerged in recent years as the biggest suppliers of qualified professionals to industrialised countries as a whole, adding that he developing countries had to carry the costs of training skilled workers with “not a penny” in contribution from developed countries.

During the mid 1990s, there were more than a million and a half skilled expatriates from the developing countries in Western Europe, the United States, Japan and Canada.

Pursuit of higher wages
These migrant professionals who leave the countries of origin in pursuit of higher wages in the developed world contribute significantly to larger disparities between rich and poor countries.

“Africa with its shortages of manpower, was the biggest loser, having lost 60 000 professionals between 1985 and 1990 at an average of 20 000 annually until the mid-1990s. On average 10.4% of skilled migration is from Africa,’ he said.

Migration from developing countries has enormous implications for them, as their growth potential and service delivery suffers significantly as a result, leading to more poverty and unemployment.

Manuel said while there are a variety of reasons for migration of many professionals, ultimately the higher rate of remuneration was the main driver behind such movement.

In terms of the migration of African health-care workers to advanced economies, there is an estimated shortage of 820 000 doctors, nurses and other health workers on the continent.

“In South Africa we have 393 nurses and 74 doctors per 100 000 people, compared with 901 nurses and 247 doctors per 10 000 people in the US,” he explained.

He said challenges persist for national education and training systems, and it has become clear that better international coordination is needed in addressing the international skills shortage.

“We know that in South Africa, for example, we are not making sufficient progress in maths and science in our schools, and we need to find ways of using technology and making better teaching methods if we are going to meet this critical need [of skills] effectively,” he said.

Source: BuaNews