Outsourced Odyssey

A tech veteran explores the human impact of a bout with outsourcing.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

U.S. Blue-Chip Businesses Shift Hiring Abroad

Data from the U.S. Commerce Department reveal U.S. multinational companies increasingly are staffing their workforce from overseas. During the 2000s these businesses cut their U.S. Workforce by 2.9 million; hiring overseas increased by 2.4 million, as revealed this week in the Wall Street Journal.

The concern among some economists: the U.S.is not as competitive as overseas for staffing global companies. These large, premier companies--seen as "canaries in the coal mine" by economists due to their global footprints-- are an early warning that future quality employment here is at risk.

Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator and now a critic of US trade policy, listed what he felt is behind these trends:
"All the incentives in the global economy:
  • an overvalued US dollar
  • lower corporate taxes abroad
  • very aggressive investment incentives abroad
  • government pressure abroad versus not at home
... has been having, and will continue to have, a negative impact on US employment and wages."

Monday, July 16, 2007

A new job - and lessons learned

My wife has landed a new job - YAY! Her unemployment had just recently expired, so this was great timing.

While it's fresh in our minds, here are a few lessons learned from her job search.

Be positive
A positive mental attitude will make all the difference. Don't reflect too much on the past, on the last job. What counts is the present. This could be an opportunity in disguise. Focus on the future - your next job - and make this a change for the better.

It's a marathon, not a sprint
You may be lucky and find something new quickly. But most likely, your job search will take a while. Most likely it will be months - not weeks - of effort to land your next job. Don't worry: it takes most people this long, not just you.

A job search requires new skills
You need to know where to look for job postings, the ins and outs of unemployment, how to write a resume, how to write a cover letter, interviewing techniques, etc. There are many resources online to help you. You also may have nonprofit job search organizations in your local area that give free classes on these topics. It's time well spent.

If feasible, upgrade you
This might be the time to take a few classes and upgrade your job skills. This need not be a long, costly endeavor. Selected computer classes at your local adult education facility can help qualify you for a better job.

Know thyself
What type of job do you want? Why? And what makes you qualified to get that job? Start your job search looking inward - not outward.

Online job postings are a great resource
Newspaper job listings guarantee lots of competition and focus on jobs where demand exceeds supply (think: nurses, tech hotshots). Small businesses are increasingly using resources like Craig's List, Monster and other job sites - they find them often cheaper, faster and easier than newspapers. For the job hunter, using searches to target specific jobs and locations is a godsend.

Tailor your resume and cover letter for each job
The employer often mentions specific job skills needed. If you have these skills, make sure they can't be missed by the person screening your resume. A little extra time can mean the difference between the interview pile and the reject pile.

Interviews are an acquired skill
Your early interviews may not go as well as you hoped. Don't worry: you'll get better as you go along. Better yet - have a few practice interviews with a friend before the real thing. After a few times you'll be a veteran, and possibly better at it that the person doing the interview!

Be yourself during the interview
Disregard advice that you must "perform" during the interview - this will only make you tense and unnatural. Of course be positive and professional. But be yourself. If they don't like the real you, why would you want to work there?

Put yourself in the employer's shoes
Have someone you trust look at your resume as a prospective employer would. Are there questions, or red flags you should be ready for? Gaps in employment, frequent job changes, etc. may be for good reasons. Make sure these questions aren't a surprise.


Friday, May 25, 2007

On the trail of a job opening

It seemed today I had found an instance of a rare and endangered species: a technical opening in our office for a California associate.

I discovered it in a chat with a colleague. He was leaving the company, and wonder of wonders, it seemed his position was not going away. He would actually be replaced. This meant (gasp) a job opening.

It was a testing engineer position, not the most fascinating thing in the world. But it had some positives. The work closely involved the major database I have long worked with until last year. There was a local team leader, so management was on-site, and I knew a couple of other people on the team. Finally, the work would allow me to gain much deeper knowledge of our data structures for marketing. All in all, it seemed preferable to the position I've been slotted into.

Before getting too excited, I went over to learn more about it from the team leader. And a good thing I did. Unfortunately, it seems my colleague did not quite have it right.

The team currently is "in a state of flux" (like who isn't these days). The position would be on hold while things sort themselves out. It was unlikely the opening would be filled by an associate.

Instead, the position will be outsourced. In fact, outsourcing is the eventual direction for the whole testing function.

What's the title of that Beatles song again? Oh yeah.

I Should Have Known Better.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Layoff volunteers - the end of a humane option

Talking to an old colleague today, the subject naturally turned to recent layoffs in her unit. She's 62, and would welcome a severance package. However, during recent reductions, they laid off another man, a few years younger, highly capable, but not ready by any means for retirement. Yet both would have cost the same amount of severance dollars.

In other words, our company could have chosen a more humane layoff decision at no additional cost. She was ready and willing. She would have gladly gone. All they needed to do was ask for layoff volunteers. Why would they not do that?

My friend had the answer. Last year they were briefed by management and asked that very question. The reason? The Bank was sued. And lost. No more layoff volunteers.

Apparently the issue concerned "preference" and the bank could not prove objectivity. Reading between the lines, someone sued - and won - for not getting laid off. Is this a great country or what?

As I have written earlier, it's hard to see how this is a great victory for The Workers. People willing and able to be laid off are not. Others - for whom a layoff will be a great hardship - get sacked.

One lawyer and their client hit the Legal Lottery. But the business was not the only one on the losing end.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Forcible "integration"

I have officially been "integrated" into the larger organization that swallowed up our "smaller" 1000 person division earlier this year. Although I've been at this place 29 years, this is something new for me. And that's saying something.

Don't get me wrong, reorganizations around here come fast and furious. Nothing new there. I've been through reorganizations where my team gets a new manager, the team is moved to some other organization, we get a new higher-level manager, etc. Any of these I've gone through numerous times (I'm on my sixth manager now in the last 12 months).

This time was different. The team I was on was broken apart by function, and each person sent to a different place in this new monster organization. A team of familiar faces is quite helpful in times of change - but that security blanket is not there this time. My old team no longer exists.

Instead, like the Army, I have been told to report to G, my new manager. My entire team is on the East Coast; I've never heard of them, and they've never heard of me. None of the team members has been an employee more than five years; my manager has been here eight months. Oh, and I'm the oldest on the team by at least 15 years.

Last year when I joined this team, I had to interview for the job - they chose me for the position. Although I was new, my new manager had heard good things about me, and I had a local West Coast teammate that I knew.

But in this situation, I was literally dumped on this team, apparently whether they liked it or not. No one had a choice, there was nothing voluntary about it. Hopefully it will all work out, assuming this is not simply a short way station before the vaunted "economies" of this integration are realized.

However, no matter which way I look at it, it's rather unsettling.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Our Outsourcing Continues

Three more senior-level programmers have been laid off from our West Coast offices. With this one move our organization let walk out the door 90+ years of specialized, highly valuable experience. Left behind in their place: two young, freshfaced Indians - and a number of their offshore compatriots - filled with several weeks of "knowledge transfer".

Our department a few years ago numbered 83. We ran the technical side of the organization's database marketing operation with great success. But now only 23 workers remain - a reduction of more than 70%.

Our workplace - so tightly packed at the peak that visitors needed to use cubicles of those out sick or on vacation - is now rather sparsely populated. Many aisles are deserted save for the window cubicle. Of the 36 available cubicles near me, all but two sit empty. I half expect to look up one day soon and see a tumbleweed blowing past.

Meanwhile the survivors soldier on. Why don't we just leave? Well, of course the younger and most marketable of us have moved on to greener pastures. Many of the remaining are over 50 and would prefer to put off the day when they put our open, diversity-loving society to the All Ages Are Equal test.

Unfortunately, that day has been coming all too soon for many of us lately.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Famous economist: 40 million jobs at risk

Princeton economist and former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alan Blinder says the current one million jobs lost from offshoring is the "tip of the iceberg". In a page 1 Wall Street Journal article this week, Blinder says as many as 40 million American jobs could be shipped overseas in the next decade or two.

"A New Industrial Revolution" is the scale of change this nation faces, analogous to when workers left farms en masse and migrated to cities. This change set off massive shifts in "how and where people lived, how they educated their children, the organization of businesses, the form and practices of governments."

The changes we face in the coming generation are of this scale. We must recognize the dimensions of the problem and begin to prepare ourselves for it.

He says the most important divide is not, as commonly argued, between jobs that require a lot of education and those that don't. It's not simply that skilled jobs stay in the US and lesser-skilled jobs go to India or China. The important distinction is between services that must be done in the U.S. and those that can -- or will someday -- be delivered electronically with little degradation in quality. The more personal work of divorce lawyers isn't likely to go overseas, for instance, while some of the work of tax lawyers could be. Civil engineers, who have to be on site, could be in great demand in the U.S.; computer engineers might not be.

Our educational system must adapt. A college degree will not offer a worker protection if they have worked hard only to master a skill that is easily outsourced offshore.

Bottom line: jobs with person-to-person contact will survive; many others will not. The janitor's job is safe. But all you computer programmers...oh, well.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Still standing

It's been a long week. Just waiting for the East Coast head honcho to arrive, probably to lay people off. After all, she had said all "affected Associates" would be notified by end of February, and she was to be here the 27th and 28th. And with our unit being potentially redundant after the last internal organization, things weren't looking good.

But she has come and gone and I am still standing. I was sick yesterday and working from home, and spent the whole day checking voicemail every half hour. With each call I waited anxiously to see if a "summons" was on my voicemail; fortunately I always heard "no new messages" awaited me.

They have taken a new quiet policy and are not announcing layoffs, but I know something was supposed to happen yesterday. Of course word always gets around when people are let go, so our minds will not be eased just because a formal announcement is withheld.

Or maybe it's just not a big deal any longer. What a great topic for our internal corporate web site: "Click here for the latest layoff news!" "Check back often to see if your name is on the list."

Sometime ahead they will be analyzing in detail redundant positions after this reorganization is complete. That may be a hard exercise to survive. But for now I'm still here.

But each layoff round leaves one battered and bruised. How much can someone take without becoming perennially demotivated?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Think I'll skip the welcome mat

I received an ominous e-mail this morning.

My manager’s boss is coming to town, for an in-person “all hands” meeting. We were told to reserve Tuesday, February 27th for a short meeting. Our manager said we shouldn’t worry, it’s likely just a “meet and greet” session.

Yeah, right. Managing 200+ employees, she’s going to drop everything, fly across the country from the East Coast, to have a “short meeting” with her 12 West Coast associates.

There can be only one reason for this trip: she will be laying off people. Per company protocol the news has to be delivered in person.

This is the same script from last year. The unexplained higher level East Coast manager visit. The advance note to make sure everyone is “available”. The promised “all hands” meeting as a cover.

The original performance was bad enough – was a sequel really necessary?

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rampant rumors

A former colleague from Florida called a couple days ago with the grim news that he was amongst those laid off February 1st. We are in the same department, but he's on a different team. He had been expecting it, since he was the right hand communications man for the now-retired executive. Like a change of parties in Washington, formerly secure jobs quickly become insecure when the top boss goes.

The cutting is not done, and even heavier layoffs can be expected next month - according to him. Next month they will be letting go now-redundant workers as our organization is swallowed into a much larger one. That was not what I wanted to hear.

I had been hoping an optimistic rumor was true: our two organizations would operate independently for the remainder of the year. As we had been told by our leader only last week, "most of the layoffs" have already occurred. And if things would operate independently for a while, maybe I would be safe for the rest of the year.

Without the benefit of my rose-colored glasses, the heavier layoff rumor seems more probable.

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