Two steps to protecting your job from offshore outsourcing

Industry analysts predict that the IT outsourcing drain that is hurting U.S. employment levels will dissipate by 2005. In the meantime, here is a two-step plan to make sure your job isn't lost before the tide turns.

The recent rush of companies outsourcing to offshore suppliers is presenting many IT professionals with an unprecedented career challenge. All told, by the end of 2004, one in 10 IT jobs in IT companies and one in 20 IT jobs at non-IT companies will have moved offshore, according to Gartner.

The picture won't get much brighter even if the government passes restrictions on temporary work visas, as the development of trade agreements between the United States and foreign countries could render the new visa legislation an ineffective deterrent. For example, President Bush has signed a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore that allows workers from Singapore to work in the United States without salary restrictions or limitations on the length of time they could remain here.

There is some good news, however. Projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), when coupled with a recent Aspen Institute study, indicate a dramatic shrinkage in the members of what is called the "prime-age work pool" (people between the ages of 25 and 54) that are properly trained and educated to address the growing demand for IT professionals.

According to these collective projections, a huge shortage of IT workers will result due to the retirement of millions of baby boomers, with slightly over half of these being replaced by suitable candidates entering the aforementioned "prime-age work pool." According to the BLS, the seven fastest-growing occupations this decade will all be in technology.

For example, the demand for applications software engineers and tech support specialists will double by 2010, according to the BLS. Furthermore, the BLS tells us that the demand for database administrators is projected to grow by 66 percent. Anthony Carnevale, a former chairman of President Clinton's National Commission for Employment Policy, stated that we'll start to see labor shortages all over the place by 2005. Experts also note that India, China, the Philippines, and other newly industrialized countries simply will not have enough capacity to fill these U.S. IT labor shortage gaps. Translation: The current slump in IT positions due to the economy and offshore outsourcing is not slated to last for a very long time.

In the meantime, IT professionals need to offshore-proof their careers, at least for the short term. The trick is to prepare yourself to do work that, for the short term, is not as likely to go overseas, while simultaneously increasing your overall personal value to employers by broadening your skill sets. It's a two-step, short-term career protection strategy.

The first step
You need to acquire a portfolio of skills that are less likely to be sent offshore in the short term, so that you can secure your current position or acquire one in the near-future if you are in transition. Please note that I am not saying that the roles I list below cannot be moved offshore. They can and, in some cases, have been. However, it is more difficult to move these jobs offshore, and, therefore, the process will take longer and may discourage enterprises from going through the cost and pain of moving these jobs.

So, with that caveat in mind, here are five areas you can consider moving toward individually or in combinations as an overall first step to offshore-proofing your career for the short-term:

1. Learn IT requirements analysis
Requirement analysis is the process by which the requirements of a system to be developed are identified and the current business environment is modeled in terms of the processes carried out and the data structures involved. The need to develop new systems in order to obtain and sustain competitive advantages continues to fuel the need for requirement analyst skills.

2. Learn business process design
Business process designers review existing workflows and work practices and recommend improvements. Where needed, they redesign processes and procedures, implement changes, and identify tools that will help staff perform and achieve better results.

3. Learn IT contract management
Withthe growth in outsourcing comes a growing need for people in the company that is outsourcing to have expertise in contract management. Contract managers:
  • Develop comprehensive outsourcing and contract management strategies that align with budgets, missions, and the strategic goals of the company and the outsourcing arrangement.
  • Design and implement performance measurements frameworks for contracting strategy.
  • Maximize IT return-on-investments (ROI) through strategies such as performance-based contracting and "gain-share and "sharing-in-savings" strategies.

4. Learn IT business relationship management
Business relationship managers are the facilitators that help build and maintain the critical relationships in today's complex network of business relationships. The increase in offshore outsourcing, as well as local outsourcing, actually increases the need for skilled business relationship managers within the companies that outsource, who need to balance and leverage all of these relationships for maximum results.

5. Learn IT architecture planning
Architecture planners focus on developing high-level plans that specify technology choices and directions required to support an organization's goals and objectives.

A recent CIO magazine survey found that 11 percent of companies had outsourced system and architecture planning offshore despite the fact that this is one of two categories that analysts and chief information officers have predicted would never leave the home shores. (The other category is research and development, which a surprising 14 percent of companies had outsourced.) Nevertheless, this is a job category that is still, for the most part, performed by local labor.

The second step
I advise you to become "versatilists." A fellow TechRepublic writer, Karen Ann Kidd, recently wrote an excellent article on versatilists that I highly recommend to readers who want to further strengthen their ability to remain valuable to companies.

Versatilists, as described in Kidd's article, are IT professionals that apply a broad and deep set of skills that cut across various disciplines, such as marketing, sales, and public relations. They are continuously gaining new competencies in other domains of knowledge, building relationships, and assuming new and expanding roles. That type of evolutionary, multifaceted, individualized value proposition is seldom easy to replace even with local employees and even more difficult to outsource to an offshore provider.

In addition to a healthy dose of business skills, it is clear that tooling yourself up for survival in this tough economy requires a greater focus on the "softer-skills" that are a key component of effective communication and management. As recently noted by Ken Blanchard, coauthor of the seminal work, Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership, (William Morrow, 1999), and whose clients include top-tier technology consulting firms such as Siemens Business Services, "Today we see soft skills becoming more and more important to the success of IT professionals." I wholeheartedly agree and believe this will continue to be true in the short term as well as the long term.

Global competition powered by technology coupled with the bubble burst and a recession has left many formally well-compensated IT professionals facing one of the toughest crises in our profession, albeit a short-term one in the larger scheme of things.

My recommendation is not to run away from the IT sector and miss out on the coming job boom. Instead, by adding key skills that link you with the core business as well as becoming more versatile across multiple domains, protect your IT career as we move through these tough times, and position yourself for even greater future career success.

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