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Tech Industry

What to do about outsourcing

Street Tech's Paul Lamb says being laissez-faire is not the answer. But will government and the private sector be up to the task?

    Now that election battle lines are drawn, and outsourcing has become a debate issue, do we simply pick a side? Why not offer some solutions, instead? Insourcing and Cross-sourcing
    Despite the Internet-enabled traveling nature of service jobs like computer programming, many jobs require workers on the ground--even in the information technology business. For example, my own organization recently launched a computer repair and desktop and networking support business that hires and trains local low-income or unemployed workers.
    We already know that we have an outdated elementary and secondary educational system that's ill-equipped to serve the future.
    The trick is to determine what local needs can only be served by the local employable population and then build businesses and training solutions around those needs.

    We must clearly identify what future businesses cannot "travel" and target education and training programs toward specific "insourcing" opportunities.

    Additionally, joint ventures crossing global boundaries might also work to the mutual advantage of local and international workers. Numerous small Web companies hire overseas design workers; by cross-sourcing, a local company with limited resources is able to offer a more competitive product. The overseas worker, lacking business infrastructure and a client base, is still able to find appropriate employment.

    Tax firms conducting outsourcing
    Companies that choose to outsource--now a majority of the Fortune 500--should be required to utilize a small percentage of outsourcing savings to fund the retention or retraining of workers. By instituting such a program, a company would also be demonstrating to employees a concern for more than the bottom line. If mandated by the federal government, no company could win an unfair competitive advantage.

    Expand job training with a focus on the future
    The current system of training support on the federal and state levels needs serious revamping. As well as superior funding, more flexibility is required to focus on tomorrow, not yesterday. We should be putting our best minds to work, identifying opportunities about to come online. Industries like home technology integration, on-demand computing and Internet telephony are just a few examples of an IT service industry wave that is about to break. Are our workers ready?

    Education for the future
    Certain corporate leaders have recently argued that jobs are going overseas, because our education system is not up to snuff. Relative to outsourcing, this is a just a smokescreen. We already know that we have an outdated primary and secondary educational system that's ill-equipped to serve the future. But we also have plenty of highly skilled workers available now.

    Yes, we absolutely need to train more knowledge workers to be highly independent, critical thinkers, with the ability to organize, multitask and utilize advanced technology tools with ease. But that is a separate issue from the current cost-cutting trend. Until our society decides to invest in public and private school systems, corporate profiteers will conveniently use education as an excuse.

    Research next-generation jobs
    Who is actually identifying and developing training programs? Nobody!

    The Internet and its predecessors have only quickened an outsourcing trend that began decades ago.
    While it is difficult to prepare for jobs that don't yet exist, couldn't we harness the amazing talents of those who are bringing us the new technologies, products and services to think forward about job opportunities that will surround them? What are we waiting for?

    Understand the cost of job loss scenarios
    We need to know better the social and economic costs of job losses and propose remedies for the pain and disruptions. Given our technology and rapid access, it seems pitiful that we take so long to recognize major changes in the economy. We need to develop a "real time" system of analysis to help us adapt instantaneously. If this were in place, we could feel much more secure in negotiating international trade agreements. Such agreements might no longer be viewed as trade theory experiments but rather as carefully crafted social covenants that also respect the rights and aspirations of workers and consumers.

    Globalization is unstoppable; anyone even generally aware of the sea changes occurring in worldwide business, technology and culture knows this. Yet it can be better shaped to serve both the economy and humanity. The Internet and its predecessors have only quickened an outsourcing trend that began decades ago. Workers no longer need to cross physical borders to access better jobs, nor do companies need to relocate to access cheaper labor. The knowledge worker is as nimble and available as cyberspace allows.

    Equally important is the fact that the modern multinational is a kind of nation state, with unswerving loyalty to its shareholders and its leaders and too little concern for the well being of countries, communities or peoples. Small and midsize businesses are likely to eventually walk a similar path with their smaller footprints.

    Given these realities, what do we do about outsourcing? The answer does not necessarily involve congressional legislation or a boycott of Hewlett-Packard. A fundamental answer lies in local entrepreneurship, along with both larger-scale and more creative grassroots undertakings. Success also demands regional and national support, and scrutiny of forward-looking education and training programs, in addition to a rapid-response work force system. Let's move ahead now!