State of the market: What is causing a brain drain?

Marc-David Rompf - 13. March 2020

Research by the New York Times at the end of 2017 put the number of artificial intelligence experts worldwide at 10,000. Even if the number has meanwhile doubled or quadrupled – it pales into insignificance against the demand from the US, Chinese and European employment markets.

The battle to recruit, or poach, AI talent is hard-fought. Our dla market research interviewees were in agreement: Three triggers are decisive for a “brain drain”.

“From the US perspective, Europe is an AI discounter.”
Fabian Schladitz, Head of CoE Artificial Intelligence, Capgemini

Trigger 1:
Money, Money, Money

  • The average salary for an AI position in the US clocks in at around 111,000 US dollars (analysis by the employer evaluation platform Glassdoor).
  • Annual salaries for the very top positions are significantly higher – in this segment in particular. German companies do not (yet) have anything approaching adequate payment structures. Which means that from the perspective of US employers, investments in German or other European locations are worthwhile.

A machine learning developer in the Bay Area earns the annual equivalent of around 150,000 Euro.
Survey by the job portal

Trigger 2:
Strong networks

  • Salaries aren’t everything: Companies should also invest in measures to keep them on the radar of AI talents. Contacts acquired through joint ventures with research institutions and start-ups are particularly important.
  • It’s important to not only consider graduates and up-and-coming talent, but also to develop partner networks with established international thought leaders. (Top-notch) professionals can also be recruited via consultancies and freelancers.
  • Almost all of our interviewees cited personal network contacts acquired through research or work projects as the decisive factor for a change of employment.

“AI at Siemens combines research and application. We are relatively early entrants in the innovation chain, but rather than hand over projects once a certain threshold is reached, we can help design the actual applications. In my experience precisely that is very important to AI talent: They want to experience the way in which their own applications impact the world.”

Dr. Michael May, Head of Company Core Technology Data Analytics & AI Siemens

Trigger 3:
Attractive locations

  • Some 67% of AI jobs in the US are based in New York City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle (Glassdoor). Dependent on the role, the high cost of living in those places can soon put an exorbitant salary in perspective. Consequently, the attraction of metropolitan regions such as Berlin, Munich or Stuttgart is currently growing – or it may be that AI experts are prioritizing family life over employment location. German companies can score here if they offer greater security than US competitors.
  • Greater investment in training AI professionals is also important in Germany, for example through combined data science/AI training or other market-oriented degree courses.

Recruiting strategies


Expert impulse

The horizon of expectation