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Sea to shining sea

There’s plenty of growling about offshore outsourcing in the IT community. But there’s a better tactic than getting angry. It’s called getting organized.

Last month, an unemployed reader wrote to ask if any area of IT is safe from outsourcing, and whether he could find a way to overcome his anger about seeing his job shipped overseas. Although I gave him some advice on looking for a stable position, the anger question was harder to address, so just think of this as part two in the answer to his letter.

It’s true that outsourcing will be a continuing trend, and it’s true that trying to assign blame can be a futile and self-defeating exercise. But that doesn’t mean that unemployed workers have to be ignored, and their frustrations unheard. It also doesn’t mean that you should just swallow your anger and let it chew away at your stomach lining. To defuse any fury that might be present about the current employment scene, and perhaps your withdrawal from it, there are a couple of things that can be done.

Find out what you’re dealing with. There’s much chatter nowadays about offshore outsourcing and lost jobs, but knowing exactly what’s happening and why companies are sending work out can be valuable.

Start your education by learning what you’re dealing with. Analyst firm Gartner has called offshore outsourcing a “mega-trend” that will cause up to 10 percent of U.S. IT professionals to lose their jobs by the start of 2004. This kind of outsourcing is also the fastest-growing IT industry segment, growing at a compound annual rate of 29 percent. A recent ITtoolbox outsourcing survey found that of the 600 global companies surveyed, 72 percent reported that their firms were doing some kind of outsourcing, with over 20 percent of those doing offshore outsourcing. In other words, this is a mega-trend that may slow, but it won’t stop.

If you’re employed, understanding why offshore outsourcing is utilized, and understanding its place in an organization, could also prevent that kind of nasty worry that usually ends up in a breakfast of anti-ulcer medication. You can see the subject not from an “us versus them” perspective, but with a larger view that includes both the overall issue and your place in it. Keep current on the topic by doing some reading at places like ITtoolbox and SearchCIO.

If you’re unemployed, learning the deeper issues with outsourcing will help you to address the issue if you’re interviewing at a company that’s involved with sending work out. During the interview, you can ask intelligent questions about your potential role, how outsourcing would affect your future, and ways to have just a smattering of job security.

Get organized. If you have enough energy to be furious, why not harness it to fight for change? One of the inspiring things about this country of ours is the right to free speech. So use it, and often. This could take the form of political activism, management summits, or even letter-writing campaigns.

Talk to people who feel the same way that you do. More important, talk to people who think you’re wrong. Broaden your perspective, and connect with other techies, whether you agree with them or not. Form a community where you feel that your opinion matters and you can be heard. Many IT workers who have been laid off because of outsourcing feel powerless and ignored, and that’s understandable. Suddenly, they find themselves at home and alone, and if the firings happened quickly, there’s a period of numbness and shock. Chatting with others about the topic lets you know that not only are you not alone, but your voice is worth being heard.

If you have a political bent, get involved with organizations that you like. Do some volunteer work or put in some time on a campaign. The site for the pro-union Washington Alliance of Technology Workers has many valuable links and information for banding together with your tech brothers and sisters.

Justify your existence. As offshore outsourcing increases, its limitations will become clearer over time. For example, some companies have found that they underestimated how much work was being done by the IT department and they had to spend more outsourcing money than they had anticipated.

If you’re employed and concerned that your work will be shipped away, don’t be shy about jotting down your accomplishments or your workload. Document the work you do and the time you spend on it, and put it into financial terms. Does it seem crass to try and put a dollar amount on your technological wizardry? Sure. But could it save your job in the long run? Definitely.

Companies that are considering outsourcing need to know how integrated and effective the IT department is with the rest of the enterprise. Often they make assumptions based on HR performance reviews, job descriptions, and meetings with CIOs. Giving them a better idea of what they’ll lose if they start cutting staff is valuable not only for you, but for the decision makers at the company. If you like your job, and you want to keep it, fight for it. Put your anger to work for you, not against you.

Send your career-related questions to Elizabeth Millard.

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