This is the second installment of a series on offshoring IT jobs. In my first post, I gave a general overview of what offshoring is, the key difference between offshoring and the broader term “outsourcing,” and the controversy that surrounds Canadian employers when they decide to contract people overseas.
Today, I’m going to argue the case for offshoring. Next time, I’ll move to the other side of the debate.
Let’s start by looking at the root cause of why jobs are offshored. In one part of the world, capital is plentiful but labour is expensive and in short supply. In many countries across the globe, it’s the opposite.
Countries like Canada and the United States, and the powerhouses of the EU, thus have a symbiotic relationship with many developing nations. In the context of offshoring Canadian IT jobs, that usually means sending IT jobs to China, India and other south Asian countries, Brazil, and certain eastern European nations.
Our economies certainly don’t look the same. But how else are we different from these countries?
One thing distinguishing “us” from “them” is education. In western countries, there is still a legacy of the old school, so to speak. People did not go to university to learn engineering 100 years ago; they studied Latin, Greek, literature and philosophy. In fact, many years ago, there was furious resistance in the University of Toronto at the suggestion that certain technical subjects might be taught.
An ‘education’ means different things
While our universities have evolved considerably since then, other countries arguably had the lead on us by starting later and gearing their educational institutions towards the teaching of more practical and marketable skills: science, engineering and computer science, for example.
There’s nothing wrong with studying philosophy, of course. But the fact remains that there are millions of people overseas for whom university is strictly a step towards a profitable career in software development, not a place to become cultured, let alone an opportunity to drink beer out of a funnel at a frat party.
Here’s a personal anecdote. On a visit to China once, I asked an acquaintance about his best friend, who was studying at a Canadian university. I can’t recall exactly what I said, but basically I inquired whether he was “enjoying himself over there.”
I got a confused look, then a moment of awkward silence. What an odd question, you know.
For many university students in China, they’re running a marathon, working as hard as humanly possible to excel in the most prestigious fields. Not much room for fun.
Our computer science students may be working just as hard as Chinese students, but there are far fewer of them. And once they graduate, they cost a lot more. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that money will start flowing in a certain direction.
Lose your job, get a promotion
But there’s more to it than money. We’ve all heard about X group that does the work that Y group thinks is beneath them. Well, the same thing happens in IT outsourcing. The tedious and low-paid programming jobs get passed on to people overseas, while our developers get to do the more interesting stuff.
In fact, this is where a prime argument for offshoring comes in. As these low-level positions are sent abroad, we aren’t reducing the absolute number of jobs at home, but actually creating new, better ones. That is, the economic infrastructure built abroad will increase demand for Canadian IT workers.
Not only that, but the process will “upskill” Canadian IT pros, getting them into managerial positions that pay more.
Offshoring IT makes sense on Planet Earth
Finally, we come to the least controversial form of outsourcing: hiring people in different time zones who can deliver services around the clock. The benefits of this are self-evident, so there’s no real argument necessary.
After all, we don’t hear much grumbling from Canadians that they can’t get the 3 a.m.- 11 a.m. technical support shift because someone in India is handling it.
The defence rests
So, there you have it. Our universities still carry the burden of history, making education in technical fields just a part of a massive buffet of choices for students , while universities abroad have often been focused on hard technical skills from day one.
Our IT pros are scarce and becoming too expensive, while there are plenty of skilled people abroad willing to work at a fraction of their rate. So, don’t blame companies for shopping around when you cost a fortune.
Besides, there isn’t a finite number of jobs in IT around the world, and with offshoring, you stand to get a better one eventually.
Oh, and since nobody likes working nights, offshoring is a good thing.
NEXT ROUND: The case against offshoring