Certiport CEO Addresses Outsourcing Threat
An assortment of government and international professional IT associations, researchers and academicians, as well as leading IT companies such as Microsoft, Nokia, Cisco Systems and IBM gathered last month in Thessalonica, Greece to discuss the threats posed by international outsourcing of IT jobs to nations like China, India and the Philippines. Among the attendees was David Saedi, president and CEO of Certiport Inc., which offers the IC3 credential for teaching and testing core IT skills. As the head of a global organization focused on IT certification, Saedi is familiar with the offshore outsourcing movement, and has some ideas about how to deal with it.
A shrinking workforce, caused in part by baby-boomer retirements, has contributed to the outsourcing problem in the United States, Saedi said. Another reason behind the offshoring phenomenon has been historically unprecedented level of communication and collaboration through technology. “Look at what we did with the agrarian economy: People on the farm had to work on the farm to be productive and create value,” he said. “Then you move into the Industrial Age, where the people had to be at the plants. However, it is very clear with the Internet and the advancement of technology, we have been able to give workers a much larger playing field for potential jobs that are not restricted geographically.”
However, the biggest factor behind the deficiency of qualified professionals in the United States and Europe—which are projected to have IT workforce shortages of 5.3 million and 5.1 million by 2010, respectively—is what Saedi termed “the digital divide,” which refers to a disparity between necessary, relevant skills needed to perform in the vocations of today and tomorrow, and the skills (or lack thereof) of IT workers at present.
“We believe that mismatch is at the heart of the outsourcing issue,” Saedi said. “Our ability to address that issue is totally dependent on whether or not we produce the right people with the right skills at the right time. Without those skills, it is very apparent that most of the jobs of the future are not going to be filled. If you don’t have those skills, you need to be trained in those skills.”
Part of the solution to the problem of the digital divide lies in education, particularly certifications, Saedi said. “Certifications are viewed as a short-term solution to a current problem,” he said. “Certifications are shorter in duration, very focused and they generally reflect what the current market needs.” The current weaknesses of IT certifications are that they can become obsolete quickly if they are not continuously developed to keep pace with changing technologies and market forces, and that IT credentialing programs generally do not teach participants reflective, analytical skills. The key to changing these problems is for programs to have “rolling” standards policies to update the body of knowledge as needed, and for the professionals themselves to work on developing their reasoning skills.
Another part of the solution is a joint effort from the public and private sectors to examine economic development issues, gather statistics and determine the requisite skills for the IT job market of the future, Saedi said. “We need a collaboration between industry and government, in my view, the private and public sector, to find out exactly what is going to happen in terms of current statistical tends in given job sectors, and then bring them back into a dialogue with colleges and universities and other groups such as ours who prepare people, to help them get the skills they need to achieve and distinguish themselves for the jobs that are coming up in the future.”
“It’s up to us to skill these people and allow them to have the appropriate skills, so American workers reach the highest level of quality for these skills and retains their jobs,” Saedi added. “This is a global issue that we need to address first and foremost in the United States so that we keep our competitive edge and do not allow things that can be kept in this country to be moved abroad.”