Is your job exportable?

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If you’re worried your job could be farmed out to another country, or offered to a cheaper worker in America on a visa, your worries might be warranted. Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, recently wrote in The New York Times, “Since the 1990s, the global supply of skilled labor has greatly expanded and the technology for using this labor wherever it is has greatly improved.”

The trend of moving jobs outside the United States, or offshoring, affects some fields more than others. In December 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed 160 service occupations susceptible to offshoring. According to the BLS article, offshorable work:

  • Travels easily across long distances, such as through the Internet;
  • Requires little interaction with other types of workers;
  • Demands little knowledge of the social or cultural traits of the target market; and
  • Is routine.

Job functions, educational attainment and wages associated with offshorable jobs are “quite diverse,” the BLS explains. “Particularly noteworthy is that almost every computer and mathematical science occupation has some degree of susceptibility to offshoring.” In terms of education, 97 of the 160 jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Be a Great Communicator

Offshoring may pose a threat, but some say it has limitations. Dave Hatter, president of Libertas Technologies, a software development and consulting firm in Cincinnati, says offshoring doesn’t work well for complicated projects, like building a new piece of software from scratch. Extensive communication and collaboration, so vital to these projects, are hampered if you’re working with others who are remote, Hatter explains.

Tom Hosford, a software engineer in New York, says offshoring or bringing in foreign workers on visas may sacrifice the quality of work. “Outsourcing can be a band-aid fix when resources are tight, but dealing with different time zones, language barriers and companies pumping out low-quality work to make a quick buck can often make it turn disastrous,” Hosford says.

Hosford echoes Hatter’s point about communication and collaboration. Requirements for developing software sometimes need to be altered in the middle of the process, Hosford says. Such flexibility is lost, though, if team members aren’t accessible.

“You don’t have the back-and-forth. You can’t have a dialogue with them about ‘how should we do this.’ They are 12 hours away and usually … you are talking to a middleman. You are not talking to the people doing the grunt work and coding your project,” Hosford says.

So how do U.S. workers stay competitive in a market where offshoring is a variable? Consider these two key tips:

    Get an annual career audit. “I firmly believe that no matter where you are in your life, you should have an annual career audit with an objective third party that you trust,” says Charley Polachi, co-founder of Polachi Access Executive Search in the Boston area. Polachi suggests using the audit to examine your skills, areas where you need to improve, where you want your career to go and what’s happening in the larger job market.
    Keep your hard skills and your soft skills sharp. Staying on top of the latest technologies is key, especially for software-related careers, Hosford says. But communication skills are just as valuable, according to Hatter. “Problem-solving and communication [are] as important as the technical side. Finding people with both skill sets is very difficult. But it can be very rewarding if you are one of those people,” he says.

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