ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s procurement authorities are working to identify why some of the industry’s most talented individuals are migrating to Western countries — an exodus that could stall several indigenous programs.
Turkey’s procurement authority, the Presidency of Defence Industries — also known as SSB and which directly reports to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — conducted a survey to better understand the migration.
A parliamentary motion revealed that in recent months a total of 272 defense industry officials, mostly senior engineers, fled Turkey for new jobs abroad, with the Netherlands, the United States and Germany topping the list, respectively. Other recipient countries are Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Poland, France, Finland, Japan, Thailand, Qatar, Switzerland and Ireland, according to the SSB’s internal study.
The companies affected by the exodus are state-controlled entities: defense electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense firm; military software concern Havelsan; missile-maker Roketsan; defense technologies firm STM; Turkish Aerospace Industries; and SDT.
SSB sent out questionnaires to all 272 individuals; 81 responded, and the following findings are based on their answers:
- 41 percent are in the 26-30 age group. “This highlights a trend among the relatively young professionals to seek new opportunities abroad,” one SSB official noted.
- 40 percent have graduate degrees; 54 percent have postgraduate degrees; and 6 percent have doctorates or higher degrees.
- 59 percent have more than four years of experience in the Turkish industry.
- The largest group among those who left (26 percent) cited “limited chance of promotion and professional progress” as the primary reason to seek jobs in foreign companies. Other reasons cited include lack of equal opportunities in promotion (14 percent); low salaries (10 percent); and discrimination, mobbing and injustice at work (10 percent).
- 60 percent said they found jobs at foreign defense companies after they applied for vacancies.
- 61 percent are engineers and 21 percent are industry researchers.
Among the respondents' expectations before they would consider returning to Turkish jobs were higher salaries, better working conditions, full use of annual leave, professional management and support from top management for further academic work.
They also want the political situation in Turkey to normalize and for employees to win social rights in line with European Union standards. They also want to guarantee there won’t be employee discrimination according to political beliefs, life styles and religious faith. They added that mobbing should stop and that employees be offered equal opportunities.
A recent article in The New York Times, citing the Turkish Statistical Institute, said more than a quarter-million Turks emigrated in 2017, an increase of 42 percent over 2016, when nearly 178,000 citizens left the country. The number of Turks applying for asylum worldwide jumped by 10,000 in 2017 to more than 33,000.
“The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a powerful combination of factors that have come to define life under Mr. Erdogan and that his opponents increasingly despair is here to stay," according to The New York Times. "They include fear of political persecution, terrorism, a deepening distrust of the judiciary and the arbitrariness of the rule of law, and a deteriorating business climate, accelerated by worries that Mr. Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating management of the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.”
One senior engineer who left his Turkish company for a job with a non-Turkish, European business told Defense News: “I know several colleagues who want to leave but have not yet found the right jobs. I expect the brain drain to gain pace in the next years, depending on Western companies’ capacity to employ more Turkish talent.”
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.