Recent headlines reflect the phenomenon that Japanese and Indian companies – now seeing some of their work sent offshore to China – are joining the fray of American resistance to offshore outsourcing as a business solution.
But blaming offshoring (along with rightsizing, downsizing, outsourcing) for the growing number of disappearing jobs is a myopic perspective of reality. This is only a temporary step on the way to massive global change, believes Richard W. Samson, founder and director of EraNova Institute. In reality, foreign service providers, over time, will also see jobs lost to the real “culprit” — electronic intelligence and computerized business solutions.
No matter how little compensation offshore companies’ employees are willing to accept, “no one can work as cheaply as a computer chip,” writes Samson in his recently published ninth book, Mind Over Technology: Coming Out on Top as a Wired World Starts to Run on Automatic. Offshoring is actually just a trend or symptom of electronic intelligence, as IT systems were the enablers that allowed jobs to be sent abroad in the first place. And it was Y2k’s problems that brought Indian IT expertise and availability to the attention of other nations.
More jobs in the airline industry have been lost to automated kiosks replacing people who once performed the job of ticket-taking than have been lost by offshoring an airline’s call center functions. Highway tolls are collected by electronic pulses bouncing off tags on windshields, Samson’s book points out. He adds, though: “Today we also enjoy history’s highest standard of living, thanks to technology.”
“To a large extent, the human-to-electronic mental transfer is a fait accompli,” writes Samson. Technology first enabled the industrial age to engulf the agricultural age, replacing muscle power with “know-how” and displacing individual toil with factories and higher productivity. Agribusiness replaced family farms; shoe factories replaced cobblers. But that transition required a period of adjustment.
It is not unlike the period of adjustment we’re now facing; offshoring is a side effect of the transition from the industrial age to the information age, displacing white- and blue-collar jobs with standardized, consolidated functions performed by computer-enabled processes. In the two years following July 2000, writes Samson, 2.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost. PCs have also replaced humans crunching numbers. Computer templates now enable people to easily create their own contracts and wills, replacing some lawyer functions. We even have experimental cars – already built – that drive themselves, so don’t plan on a career as a chauffeur.
Both the current and the historical transition periods have caused job extinction. Both are caused by a relentless drive toward increased productivity and lower production costs. The author points out that people cannot compete with electronic solutions in achieving productivity objectives.
“As higher-level know-how is incorporated into electronic systems, writes Samson, “every profession and industry feels the impact.” However good the end result, he states, there is always trauma associated with change.
So, What are People to Do?
The remedy – and challenge — is for individuals and groups to continue new job creation while companies continue efforts to increase productivity (and, thus, lower prices for consumers) through electronic solutions. Currently, explains Samson, “we’re not looking hard enough at how to create jobs that require skills that are not easily automated. There are things that humans do better than computers.”
His book includes helpful explanations and charts on the differences. He cites a college professor as an example. If the professor delivers the same lecture over and over, that task is already being shifted to videotape and eLearning for delivery; thus, the need for professors will diminish, and the outsourcing service providers and offshore companies will be paid to produce high-quality videos and the eLearning modules cost effectively. However, a professor’s work in such activities as generating new ideas or coming up with new questions to research will remain a human job.
Even decision-making functions are differentiated in Samson’s book. “If the criteria for decision-making are known and quantifiable, it will eventually be done by computers,” he states. “But if the decision-making requires subjective opinions or relies on fuzzy factors and criteria, it will need to be performed by humans.” Computers are better at repetitive processes; people are better at creativity and reflection.
The energy, resources, and ideas of individuals and groups now engaging in resistance efforts surrounding moving jobs offshore would be far better focused on how to adjust to the trend of automating the world and on creating jobs that need humans more than computers. Everyone needs to be involved in shifting the effort and focus in this direction, advises Samson.
He advocates focusing on growth opportunities during this period of transition into the information age. People should be working on inventing new forms of business, jobs, and even social interaction that require mental skills that electronic systems are not good at performing, he explains. The book’s second half includes suggestions for individuals and groups (companies, managers, government agencies, non-profit and academic institutions, and the media) on developing solutions for the current transition into the automated world and creating new types of jobs.
“Magnifying our humanness is the winning strategy for the long haul,” concludes Samson.
In reality, his advice is a far better strategy for success than trying to put an end to offshoring.
At www.eranova.com, you can read an excerpt of Mind Over Technology; the site includes a link to purchase a softcover or eBook version from the distributor, Booksurge.com. The softcover version is also available at Amazon.com, Borders.com, Alibris.com.