The Welsh government is launching a drive to persuade more young people to remain in their homeland amid growing concerns that the percentage of working-age citizens is dropping to worryingly low levels.
Ministers fear that unless the “brain drain” is stopped – and more talented people can be tempted in – within a few decades the country may struggle to pay the bills to look after its ageing population.
On Monday the economy minister, Vaughan Gething, will set out out a vision of the country’s economic future, with finding ways of retaining and bringing in talent at the centre of it.
Gethings said in an interview prior to the the launch: “It’s a really significant challenge for us. If we don’t have more people of working age in good work, we’ll end up with a smaller and smaller tax base.
“We need to persuade more people to stay in Wales, more people to come back to Wales and more people to make Wales part of their story. We want to make best use of the talent we have as well as attracting people to Wales. People move to Wales to retire but it’s a great place to work as well.
“It’s about having a more optimistic vision about the future – you don’t have to get out to get on, there’s a really good environment for you in Wales, not just for business or work but a good place to live.”
In 2020 the proportion of the population in Wales aged 16-64 was 61% in Wales, compared with 62% of the UK population as a whole. By 2043 this is projected to drop to 58% for Wales and 59% for the UK. Wales is expected to be particularly badly hit because its elderly population is, in general, sicker and poorer than England’s.
Another concern is that the loss of young people could lead to a decline in the Welsh language. One of the government’s aims is to have a million Welsh speakers by 2050 but Gething said that if this was to be achieved it was vital to hang on to youngsters, especially in language heartlands such as the west and north, where good quality jobs can be hard to come by.
Ministers are to work with colleagues in education, businesses, trade unions and local government to encourage people to stay. It will explore how to retain more graduates by building strong links with universities, and between universities and businesses. It also wants to offer more support for startups with specific incentives in some areas.
But the Labour-led government is also planning to work hard to make the case that Wales is a more inclusive, open and green nation to live in where workers are treated with respect.
Gething believes different attitudes to work following the pandemic may help. He said there had been a “shift” before Covid struck but the crisis had accelerated it.
“Three or four years ago people were thinking, where do I want to live? Where do I want to bring up a family? What do I want to do outside my working life?” Gething said Wales had cities that had an interesting offer but were not “as impersonal as big cities in England” – plus its lovely countryside and coasts.
The minister is setting out his vision at a summit in Pontypridd in south Wales.