Ask about the greatest crisis facing Wales, and you will have many answers – second homes, local authorities in need of reorganisation, pressure on hospitals, a vulnerable devolution settlement – but none are as great as the ‘brain drain’.

The term’s prevalence in public discourse is, quite frankly, a mark of shame for a nation that espouses its patriotism on one sleeve but has been wilfully ignorant to the loss of talent on the other.

Those two words now stand as damning shorthand for the continuous haemorrhage of (mostly young) people away from Wales. So casually thrown around by experts, politicians and businesspeople that even Welsh hacks at the BBC have found it appropriate to publish a biennial ‘how to solve the brain drain’ feature.

Predictably, the premise has remained the same: more young people leave Wales than stay, and there is no solution.

The most up-to-date figures are hard to come by, but a 2017 report from the Resolution Foundation is frequently cited – noting that between 2013 and 2016, Wales attracted 23,807 graduates as 44,335 left. A 20,000 deficit. We are a ‘net importer’ of older people, the Welsh Government added this week, which means that in just over two decades, 16 to 64-year-olds will make-up just 58 per cent of the population.

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I am reassured often that national brain drains are not unique. Ireland, much mythologised as the Celtic Tiger of the nineties and noughties, lost many of its brightest graduates in the 1980s to Britain, searching for good jobs and a better quality of life.

But many now return to the thriving republic, which enjoys political certainty away from constitutional jostling and an economic future guaranteed within Europe.

Northern Ireland, by contrast, has continued to suffer immensely: research from the think tank Pivotal reveals that around two-thirds of the province’s graduates do not come home after they study elsewhere.

Comparing our national experience with others is therefore relevant, particularly in a British context where the economic and increasingly political power is centralised in London and southeast England.

And, while different issues are driving the brain drain in Wales and Northern Ireland, I suspect that the national psyche of Celts everywhere are damaged quite similarly for as long as the long socio-economic trend of failing to retain and attract graduate talent continues.

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But young people leaving Wales is not a bad thing altogether, either. (Who wouldn’t want to encourage a global diaspora that brings back new experiences, a broader mindset, and innovative skills?) The trouble too often for the Welsh is finding their way back. And that’s not because we don’t want to, either. We are innately hiraethus, longing for ‘home’: a better quality of living, comfortingly rugged landscape or just the sound of a mother tongue.

Then comes the downside: there are, of course, plenty of job opportunities, but certainly not enough with high enough wages to attract people away from London, Birmingham, or Manchester.

Hand-in-hand with providing economic aspiration is creating sustainable places to live; if poor transport links and surgent property prices are anything to go by, this is not yet a reality for communities across Wales. My generation is being priced out of towns and villages across the country.

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This is the tip of the iceberg that is already on the surface. Vaughan Gething, Economy Minister and self-proclaimed captain of ‘Team Wales’, has leaped into action and wants to solve the brain drain once-and-for-all.

All of this after Welsh Labour spent two decades of devolution encouraging people to make the most of initiatives such as the Seren network, which at its core aspires to propel youngsters to non-Welsh universities, without filling in the gaps of retaining and attracting talent back to our local economies.

Maybe championing a ‘Wales First’ approach had a bit too much of a nationalist ring even for the party of Clear Red Water. Now, however, that has changed.

A confident Mark Drakeford first signalled to me over the summer that making Wales a place where “young people feel they can make their futures” would be a priority for his government, alongside combatting the pandemic and tackling climate change.

A few months later and all three areas are clearly at the top of his agenda.

But unlike Covid-19 and environmental issues, the brain drain never seemed an immediate concern until this week.

‘Wales in desperate bid to halt mass exodus of young people’, the Daily Express blasted on its pages. Gething’s more nuanced comments about persuading “more people to stay in Wales, more people to come back to Wales and more people to make Wales part of their story” were carefully briefed to the media. As were details of the landmark summit in Pontypridd where he was setting out his economic vision for the next few years.

Curiously, few details of the exact plan to curb the brain drain exist beyond reasonable yet general points on the Welsh Government website – including helping people into jobs, building links between universities and businesses to retain talent, and supporting graduate start-ups. All will be needed, on a significant Wales-wide scale and scope, if there is any hope to make the country as a whole a graduate destination, not just the south Wales coal belt.

The Welsh Government should also look to business and other sectors to do even more difficult work: promoting the world of work in Wales that already exists.

Darogan Talent, Wales’ graduate hub I co-founded in 2018, does just that: advertising jobs from some of the country’s leading employers. Why? Because it isn’t necessarily that people don’t want to work and live in Wales; they just don’t know how to go about it.

That was me as a student in Oxford a few years ago, so in despair about the situation that Darogan was born.

But now it seems we are getting somewhere in convincing the Welsh Government that the brain drain needs to be addressed, coherently and urgently.

For too long, alas, they have been warned and then waited. Wales has felt the consequences. The political winds seem to finally be changing. I, like many other young Welsh people, are holding their breath. Again.

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