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Global Talent Migration - where are the most skilled workers going?



Could your skills take you to another country?

Global Talent Migration measures where highly skilled workers are likely to move to around the world.
(Image via Pexels)

This isn’t just an abstract question. Every company is seeking world-class talent to support their goals, and for many there is no limitation to that search.

Particularly in highly skilled fields like engineering, the right workers with the right expertise for a major project - whether it’s in Oil & Gas, Automotive, Mining or ICT - are unlikely to wander into the developer’s reception. Companies need to reach out to all corners of the globe to source skilled workers, and then bring the people to the project’s location.

And in many cases, that offer is beyond the company’s control. Countries themselves have to provide the support system that will enable people to work there, attract them to the opportunities there, develop their careers and retain them.

Workers with technical experience in highly-skilled fields are in demand around the world
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Skilled Worker Migration is the movement of experienced workers from countries without suitable opportunities to countries that can attract the very best global talent. The factors that determine this are complex, from the resources that lead companies to begin projects there, to the economic conditions and quality of life within the country.

The Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) is an annual benchmarking report that looks at the patterns of Skilled Worker Migration and determines which countries are succeeding the most in the global competition for talent. Now in its sixth year, the GTCI is becoming increasingly relied upon by governments and private companies to determine where the most skilled workers are likely to go, and what they need to do to attract more talent to their area.

The GTCI’s 2019 report was published in January as an in-depth white paper that looked at a multitude of factors. Consulting firm KDM Engineering analysed the data in order to publish this infographic that highlights the 25 countries currently attracting and retaining the highest skilled workers from abroad, breaking down the four main factors for each that determined their position and listing the five countries that each one is taking workers from.

KDM Engineering used data gathered from the Global Talent Competitiveness Index and the UN to chart the top 25 countries for skilled worker migration, and each ones "feeder" countries
(Image via KDM Engineering)


The Global Talent Competitiveness Index benchmarks the patterns of skilled worker migration. Their ranking system takes in a multitude of factors to determine the top countries for skilled workers.
(Image via Pexels)

How are the rankings determined?

There are four primary factors from the GTCI findings that were considered the most important when looking at country rankings for Skilled Worker Migration. These represent the “Inputs” - what countries do to produce and acquire talents - as opposed to the “Outputs” - the kind of skills that are available to people as a result. In terms of assessing which countries are most likely to attract workers, the inputs are the essential areas.

The top level factors that make up these are condensed into four pillars: Enable, Attract, Grow and Retain. According to the GTCI, multinational corporations frame talent management in these terms, defining talent management as an organisation’s efforts to attract, select, develop and retain talented employees to meet their strategic needs. The GTCI expands this model to look at countries.

  • Enable - In its simplest terms, countries need to make opportunities for global talent to move there, and be open to attracting skilled workers. Scores for this pillar take in a complex range of factors regarding the openness of the regulatory, market and business & labour landscapes. It includes aspects like government effectiveness and political stability, corruption, competition intensity, ease of doing business, ICT infrastructure, ease of redundancy, active labour market policies and relationship of pay to productivity, among others.
  • Attract - This needs to be viewed in terms of both people and businesses. The two aspects drive each other so countries need to concentrate on drawing in both productive businesses (through foreign direct investment and availability of national resources) and creative talent (through removal of migration barriers for certain groups). “Internal Openness” factors play a major part in this score too, including things like anti-discrimination policies, overall tolerance indicators and gender equality indicators such as wage gaps and leadership opportunities for women.
  • Grow - Investing in existing talent by driving workers to develop new skills is a major benefit that attracts talent and opens up wider potential for skills migration in the future. This factor includes education levels, apprenticeships, prevalence of training in firms, opportunities for continuous education, and access to growth and experience opportunities.
  • Retain - Though growing talent may offer your workers the skills that will help them move elsewhere, talent retention investments will ensure they want to stay. Quality of life is the primary element, so countries that can offer more to the workers that live there will increase sustainability in talent. Other factors include social protection, pension systems, physician density (the number of medical doctors per 1000 people) and environmental performance.

In addition to the results from GTCI, which showed the countries that skilled workers were migrating to, KDM Engineering wanted to see where this talent was travelling from. They looked at additional data from the UN to see which nations were the “top feeders” - supplying the talent for each country that was analysed.

These top feeders can be seen for each category in the infographic above.

For skilled jobs such as engineering, Switzerland is ranked #1 in the world
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What were the findings?

The report showed the the rankings for countries attracting high skilled workers were:

The full ranking of the top 25 countries as determined by KDM Engineering's analysis of the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2019

Overall then, Europe leads the top rankings with 16 countries in the top 25. North America is strong with both the USA and Canada making it into the list. Australasia is similar with Australia positioned in 6th and New Zealand making it to 14th. Singapore gives Eastern Asia a high ranking, but the only other country from the area to make it into the top 25 is Japan in 22nd. And the Middle East is represented by UAE, Israel and Qatar. No countries from Africa or South America are ranked in the top 25 places for highly skilled workers.

Switzerland leads the world for global talent migration, with Singapore in second place
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Switzerland came out on top, having rated highly on all four factors. It is the global leader for both retaining talent and for developing vocational and technical skills, and the second placed country for the Enable pillar. As a high-income, multilingual country that’s easily accessible by workers from other European nations, with a high quality of life and significant public investment in education, Switzerland provides a good offering for companies and workers. It’s not surprising to see that four of its top five feeder countries come from within the EU - particularly with Germany and France, the two countries whose languages are spoken in Switzerland, making up the top two.

Switzerland was beaten for both Enable and Attract by Singapore, who came in second place. A rich economy and access to the Asian marketplace is an important attraction for companies, opening up significant opportunities for workers. This is reflected in the country’s top feeders, which all come from Western countries - USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Where Singapore falls slightly is in the Grow pillar, where it comes in 13th place, and Retain, where it lands 7th. Still high enough to reach the top level globally, but a possible reminder to skilled workers that there may be better opportunities to grow elsewhere.

The UK and the USA came in third and fourth place respectively, with each benefiting from a close neighbour as a top feeder (Ireland for the UK, Canada for the USA). The UK provides easier access to foreign workers than America, though there’s no clue on what the possible effects of Brexit might be for the future of this placement. They’re also in fifth place globally for retaining talent, edging out Singapore and being beaten only by Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg and Sweden.

The US, meanwhile can only be beaten by the Netherlands for offering workers opportunities to grow and develop their skills further. This growth factor helps it edge out Sweden to fourth place. Though the Scandinavian country scores slightly higher on the Enable, Attract and Retain factors - it can’t compete with the States’ strong education and training prospects.

Countries like Qatar and Japan have strong prospects for skilled workers, but fail in just a few areas
(Image via Pexels)

As we move down the list, the scores show more variety. Qatar, for example is a very attractive prospect for highly skilled workers - registering number 3 in the world. However its training and education prospects let the country down, and it only ranks 47th for growth - bringing it to 21st place overall.

Similarly Japan’s score is mostly offset by its relatively low Attract score (51st place), which the GTCI puts down to the country’s need for improvement in gender equality, dragging it to 22nd overall despite its high potential for enabling, growing and retaining talent.

KDM’s results only showed the top 25, with Israel just making the cut off. In terms of enabling skilled worker migration, growing talent and retaining workers the country shows reasonable potential, with scores at roughly the middle of the pack. However political effects on regional attitudes to immigration and tolerance drop the country’s Attract score to just 67th place.

Unsurprisingly it’s the high-income countries that draw in the most highly skilled workers, and each of the countries that fall into KDM’s list of the top 25 scorers fit into this bracket. A glance at the GTCI report shows that the top scoring country in the next bracket - upper-middle income - is Malaysia, which ranks 27th in the world, beating high-income countries like Portugal (28), South Korea (30), Spain (31), Chile (32), Cyprus (33), Italy (38), Saudi Arabia (39), Poland (42) and Greece (44).

Further down the list, the highest scoring lower-middle income country is the Philippines in 58th place - still beating high-income countries like Argentina (60) and Kuwait (64). And the highest scoring low income country is Rwanda, ranking 73rd in the world.

The GTCI has been measured for six years, so data can now begin to be analysed over a longer term to see the changes in skilled worker migration trends
(Image via Pexels)

What about the longterm data?

Past versions of the GTCI report have shown similar rankings for many of the countries in the top 25, with only minor changes. Switzerland and Singapore have held their positions at the top since 2014, though in that time we’ve seen Luxembourg fall from third place to be overtaken by the UK, USA, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.

Norway and Finland have jumped into the top ten, while Germany and Austria have fallen a few places. However none of the countries in the top 25 have been relegated since 2014.

Further down the list, however, the story is different. Large leaps have been made by countries such as Greece (rising from 46th place in 2014 to 39th in 2019), Malaysia (32nd to 27th), Ukraine (64th to 55th), Indonesia (77th to 64th) and Azerbaijan (56th to 47th).

With continuous improvements being made in each of these countries, each could be a strong prospect to watch for future skilled worker migration opportunities.

Meanwhile others have fallen dramatically in the rankings, such as Slovakia (falling from 28th place to 36th), Hungary (35th to 42nd), Brazil (50th to 62nd), Moldova (60 to 67th) and South Africa (48th to 56th).

Countries, companies and workers can all use this data to see how the leading companies are attracting, growing and retaining skilled workers
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What uses are there for this data?

For startups and supermajors alike, hiring the very best technical talent is essential for successful growth. Reports such as these are invaluable in demonstrating where all that talent is going, and where they’re coming from. Both governments and private companies will use this information to develop opportunities within these regions and take advantage of the skills of these workers. 

So if you have a specialist set of skills, make sure you know which countries are offering the most opportunities. Your range of experience could take you further than you thought.

With almost fifty years of experience, Fircroft is well-suited to sourcing leading global talent in specialist areas such as technical engineering for the Oil & Gas, Automotive, Mining & Minerals, ICT, Construction & Infrastructure and Petrochemical & Chemical industries
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Fircroft can help secure the best global talent

Fircroft’s recruitment and workforce solutions services help major companies source, recruit and retain the very best technical talents from around the world. Find out more about our range of services, including recruitment, managed services and global mobility.

If you’re a technical engineer seeking a new role, register with Fircroft for free for updates on all the latest opportunities to work on global projects.

Tags: Engineering
Recent Comments
Very good information
Arshad Ahmed Kadu , 21 March 2019
Iam technician auto electrician from guinea conakry west africa
Kova koivogui , 24 March 2019
Very interesting data however I would have liked to have seen the age group or groups e.g. does the UK take more over the age 55 or USA targets those under 50yrs in my case I'm 68 and have no health issues but the Middle East wont take people of my age! I just new getting 30 years of expertise, experience, technical knowledge, in Contracts wasn't going to help me.
Murray Ridsdale , 05 February 2020
As Murray says if you are over 60 in good health half the world does not want you especially the Middle East . The phrase local content means you are to old , so the saying ā€œ we do not discriminate ā€œ around the world is a lie !
John kirby, 06 February 2020
Hello , You offer very good and interesting information and really I hope if you can provide me or connect me with the Contact Information of the Owners and the Clients of each Project Tender while the Tender is in the Pre- Tender Stage and in very early stage . Regards . Eng. Ahmed Abdel Rahman .
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, 08 February 2020
Very useful data. It would have proven more useful to have seen the age specific data e.g. the USA only targets workers under 55yo and the Middle East and many other European countries wont take people over 60yo. Most workers are just getting expertise, experience, confidence and technical knowledge when they are no longer employed. Don't worry about gender, religious or color discrimination - age discrimination effects all of us! Vive la revolution
Iain Scott, 12 February 2020
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Global Talent Migration - where are the most skilled workers going? - Time to read 10 min
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