Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Business Week: Keeping Jobs Onshore

In this blog I continue to take a look at the August 20 and 27 Business Week feature “The Future of Work”.

Let’s start today by taking a look at offshoring and let’s take it from the perspective of a 22 year old college student. That’s what Business Week Software Editor Steve Hamm does in his piece How to Keep Your Job Onshore. Hamm talks about Matt Cavin, a freshman Theology student at Valparaiso University who, one day while on a summer study program a couple of years ago in China, happened to be reading Friedman’s The World is Flat in a Chinese park. As Matt read it was as if a light bulb went off in his head – experiencing first-hand the intensity of Chinese students as they studied English, Math and Science – Friedman’s words about the movement of U.S. jobs off-shore really hit home.

Fast forward – Matt gets back to the U.S. and remaps his future – he ditches the Theology major and will finish a triple major next spring – International Business, Economics and Mandarin. Today Matt sees opportunity – he is not scared but he is running as fast as he can. Matt understands that today just about any job that can be done over the web can be off-shored. It’s not just the computer programmers anymore – it's lawyers, pharmacists, accounting, banking, medicine….. the list is almost endless.

In his piece Hamm also discusses “multidisciplinary skills” and mentions one of my favorites (likely because this is my background) – computer science/engineering and biology. He goes on to discuss how young people in the U.S. must really sit down and plan their careers, Hamm says they must break down their jobs into the tasks that are easy to move and those that are not. They must prepare and ensure that they are excelling in the areas that cannot be easily moved if they want to stay in this country and have successful careers.

Alan S. Blinder from Princeton published an offshorability index study last March. The study pdf is linked here and it's another must read. In the study he classifies 8.2 million current jobs in the U.S. as being “highly offshorable” and 20.7 million more jobs as being “offshorable”. According to Blinder the most likely white collar positions heading offshore are software programmers, data entry clerks, draftsmen and computer research scientists.

How do we react? How do we plan? For us academics – what do we teach? For our students - what do they study? What aspects/pieces of our respective disciplines are offshorable? What pieces are not? As we update our curriculum are we focusing on the parts and pieces that are not highly offshorable? How are we preparing tomorrows workforce?

Like Matt, the student at Valparaiso - are we (you, me, our colleagues, our students) running as fast as we can?


MattCavin said...


I appreciated reading your recap of Steve Hamm's article. The story of my sitting by a lake in China and being approached by a fellow student has remained remarkably true-to-form, given the degree to which the story has been repeated.

As I reflect on Mr. Hamm's analogies to running , I grow increasingly concerned that the perception of my academic career is one of a "sprint to the finish." I'm not sprinting. I'm not even running flat-out. I'm just doing what most other students are doing and thinking about where I'm going in life.

My academic plan is comprised of topics in which I am naturally interested; I'm not studying them merely to advance myself. The transition from theology to international business was precipitated by a confluence of factors, both at home and abroad, which are not unlike those factors that compel most college students to change programs mid-stream. My experience simply included factors in China, as elucidated in Friedman's work.

The emphasis on multidisciplinary skills is helpful insofar as it develops generalists who have firm foundations in a few specialized fields. But ultimately, my Mandarin skills suffer due to my study of economics; just as my economics skills suffer due to my study of business; and so on. The question that I have, as I proceed, is whether or not corporate trends will lead decision-makers to seek out interdisciplinary specialists, or organizational generalists, in this broad-based field.

If you're interested in globalization and its impacts on China, I wrote a blog entry which was published in the Hangzhou Weekly, an English-language periodical in Hangzhou, China.

A follow-up article was published by the periodical's editor:

I wish you the best of luck with your continued blogging.

Kind Regards,
Matt Cavin

Gordon F Snyder Jr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon F Snyder Jr said...

Thank you for your comments Matt.
It is an inspiration to see young people like yourself really focusing on your future in this historical period of change. Nobody can predict the future but - from my perspective - you are right on track with your approach.
Your post at will be required reading for my students this fall.
I wish you well with your plans and "thinking about where you are going in life".

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