Living with Outsourcing

We have a problem. Outsourcing trends say all the good jobs are being outsourced to India and China. Right?

Well, in a way. There are certainly fewer opportunities now in large metropolitan areas for programmers and technical writers and call center people. The thing to remember, though, is that this isn't new.

In the eighties, computer companies contracted with what some of us called slavemasters to bring over boatloads (maybe they were actually planeloads) of programmers from Asia to work here. They were paid by the contractors, much less than the companies would have had to pay Americans, and would only get their return fare if they stayed for a year.

Also in the eighties, People Express Airlines-most of whose routes were on the east coast-had its call center in Nebraska. It wasn't the only one that had customer service lines far from the customers. Mail order and subscription fulfillment organizations looked for low-rent districts with low-wage people, and didn't care where they were. The fact that a lot of those are run from India now doesn't represent a loss to people in greater New York or Boston or San Francisco or even large cities in Nebraska. You can say that our country as a whole is hurt by the fact that these people aren't here helping our economy grow and paying taxes, but the effects on individuals aren't huge.

Besides, a lot of these jobs wouldn't be there if they hadn't been outsourceable. How many call centers were there twenty years ago? Every soup company and skateboard manufacturer didn't have an 800 number. Certainly there wasn't as much software being designed or as many manuals being written.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to see the good jobs stay here. I'm just trying to put the phenomenon into perspective. We can live with it.

The trick, of course, is to figure out which industries are outsource-proof. The answer is none of them, but you might have better luck in certain occupations than in others.

Health care comes right to mind. No one is going to Bombay to visit the dentist. Hospitals need people to work with their patients. Technology has removed some of their functions-but they're the unpleasant ones, such as taking calls from patients who want lab results. The fact that the patients can now get these results online doesn't take away from what the doctor or nurse does; it makes everyone's life easier. I would, however, steer clear of medical accounting and record transcription. These jobs are farmed out now; they could go anywhere.

Retail is another one. Yes, it's being consolidated. Between online merchants and big-box chains, there's less of a need for assistant buyers and store managers than there used to be. And you don't have to spend much time in a big-box store to know that too few people are providing service. But there are some things that people can't buy online, and even superstores like Home Depot have to offer service to attract customers. Besides, the chains need people to help them run their businesses: store managers, salespeople, secretaries, accountants, human resources people, facilities managers and meeting planners.

Human services jobs like teaching, social work and library work will always be with us; but they face their own financial challenges.

There are services, and there are more services than there were. In addition to plumbers and electricians and auto mechanics, whose jobs should be safe from outsourcing, there are nannies and pet-sitters and personal organizers and interior designers and landscape architects and personal trainers. Not to mention headhunters, career coaches, life coaches, financial planners, and lawyers of all kinds. Who, in turn, need secretaries and some kind of computer service. Most small businesses don't have the luxury of outsourcing. Banks and stockbrokers can outsource their back office operations, but still need people to meet the public.

Many of these jobs are consulting jobs, and there are even more of them. Use your imagination. People are willing to pay consultants to help them do everything from setting up a home computer to renting art for a corporate office to getting financial aid from their child's college.

You can make outsourcing work for you. My favorite type of consultant advises companies on how to outsource their jobs. Some go a step further and actually direct the outsourcing, figuring out how to hire and pay people and how to price their services. There may be a lot of unemployed lobbyists these days, but the ones who lobby for and against outsourcing are doing fine. Or you can be a journalist and write about the economic and social impact of outsourcing. Maybe you'll get a free trip to India.

Article provided by Homesteader.

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