Career Strategies for the Age of Global Outsourcing
In today’s world of Information Technology, there is one topic that invokes emotion, opinion and impassioned discussion like no other. That topic is global outsourcing. In fact, this topic is so important to Americans that it gained a great deal of attention in the recent presidential campaign.
When the trend of global outsourcing first emerged, much of the discussion in the IT world centered on the negative effects on the U.S. IT industry and what could be done to stop it. Since then, we have all come to realize that this trend has not only continued, it has grown. About two years ago, Forrester Research issued a report calculating that nearly 3.3 million U.S. services industry jobs will move offshore within the next 15 years. This would equal annual job losses of about 300,000 over the next decade. In May 2004, Forrester updated its figures, projecting that a cumulative total of 830,000 positions will have moved offshore by 2005. It is no wonder that this trend is growing when you consider that between 2003 and 2008, the total savings from global outsourcing is expected to climb from $6.7 billion to $20.9 billion (source: ITAA 2004 survey.)
While savings to U.S. companies are seen as a positive outcome for the U.S economy, it provides little consolation to American workers who have already lost or will lose their jobs due to global outsourcing. It has made many of us question: Does cheaper, skilled labor available overseas mean the end for the American IT worker? The answer is that it definitely does not. In fact, many believe that global outsourcing will create new opportunities for American IT workers. According to the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), “while offshore IT software and servicing outsourcing has displaced and will continue to displace workers, increased economic activity has created a wide range of new jobs.” More specifically, the ITAA predicts that due to this increased economic activity, more than 500,000 new IT jobs will be created between 2003 and 2008, and 250,000 of those jobs will be located in the United States. So, what jobs are likely to stay here in the United States? According to the American Electronics Association (AEA), there are indications that the jobs most likely to remain will be higher-end technology jobs, while lower-end technology jobs will continue to be lost to global outsourcing.
When companies look to outsource IT functions, they evaluate which jobs can be moved overseas without risking operational breakdowns or security breaches. They also are careful to ensure that intellectual property will not be compromised. Basically, this means that the IT worker with advanced knowledge of his company’s internal business processes is far more protected than the call-center or help-desk IT worker. The bottom line is that due to global economics, some of the lower-level IT jobs are going to leave the United States. The only way to keep jobs in the United States is to increase the capabilities and knowledge of the American IT workforce. We must increase our focus on the education of our workers to do what we have always done best—innovate and stay on the leading edge of technology.
Clearly, cost is always a factor when hiring, but there is something to be said for unmatched skill. The challenge for American IT workers is how to obtain unmatched skill in order to not only keep their jobs, but also to take advantage of new opportunities and grow their IT careers.
What You Can Do as an IT Professional
We find ourselves in the position of global outsourcing for a variety of reasons, not the least being that we have failed to keep pace with the continually increasing demand for IT literacy skills. For the individual IT professional, the only ways to maintain career security are to retrain, develop skills and focus on what is hot in the IT industry. According to the ITAA, “If the U.S. is to remain a leader in information technology, IT workers must remain at the vanguard of their profession. U.S. IT workers must be the best to build the best. That means education, training and professional development.”
Clearly, education and training are essential to expand skill sets, not only to qualify for the positions most likely to remain at a company’s U.S. headquarters, but also to qualify for the new positions created due to global outsourcing. According to The McKinsey Quarterly (July 2004), “Corporate savings (from global sourcing) can be invested in new business opportunities, and this investment will boost productivity and create new jobs. Experience suggests that these jobs will on average be higher value added.”
When deciding how to best position yourself for these newly created positions, be sure to choose the training and certification programs that teach the skills least vulnerable to global outsourcing. The key to survival is to prove your value to the organization. For example, highly skilled IT security professionals are in great demand and are also more likely to keep their jobs on U.S. soil. American companies are looking to protect their critical infrastructure and are more confident when handing the keys to their network to workers close at hand. When asked to identify the most sought-after specialties within their IT departments, executives responding to the Robert Half Technology “2004 IT Hiring Index and Skills Report” indicated that businesses are investing heavily in network security and need skilled IT professionals to assess system vulnerabilities and develop strategies to overcome them. Companies that have survived the onslaught of security attacks over the past few years have done so because their IT departments have stayed current with the solutions that would protect their infrastructure. For IT professionals, this means that you must constantly build on your knowledge in order to stay ahead and to ensure that your expertise remains valuable to you and your employer.
Along with proving value, you also must differentiate yourself. You cannot rely solely on your technology skills anymore. You must have the project management and business skills to prove the value of technology inside the organization. The ITAA said, “…for the IT worker interested in moving a career forward, problem-solving (and value creation) must be considered both a matter of having up-to-date technical skills, but also being able to step back and see the organization’s bigger business picture. Soft skills round out the technical worker and give the individual a sharper competitive advantage.”
The bottom line is that the only way to maintain career security is to move rapidly beyond foundational skills and begin building advanced skills. Where does this leave the entry-level IT worker? It is the age-old conundrum of the chicken and the egg: How do entry-level workers get the experience they need to build their skill sets when so many of the entry-level positions are sent overseas?
One unique program designed to address the challenges of the entry-level IT worker is the National IT Apprenticeship System (NITAS). CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, has partnered with the Department of Labor to develop this nationwide IT workforce development program to address the need for a better IT training model that incorporates on-the-job training.
NITAS provides the apprenticeship tools and infrastructure that ensure:
- New IT workers entering the organization become productive quickly with minimal startup periods and with little or no re-work.
- Existing IT workers learn new jobs, roles and skills as quickly as possible with minimal errors made during the training period.
- Existing IT workers adapt to new technology and innovation more quickly and leverage those opportunities to secure competitive advantage for the organization.
- All IT workers understand and appreciate the business dimension of their work and ar