Outsourced, offshored

Graphic art from India. Cheaper, faster, better? https://www.upwork.com/hire/graphic-designers/in/

Global trade is red-hot as we go into the 21st century. Old trade barriers are gone, and, with them, more and more of our jobs that can be done by others in places like India and China.

“Jon,” asked my friend Ryan one day, “What would you charge to make me a cartoon animation... maybe 2-to-3 minutes runtime?”

“I don’t do cartoons, Ryan.” I replied. “But you could find somebody here in San Diego for about $500.”

He looked at me. “I’m getting them made in India for $50.”

“$50! That’s incredible! Nobody here could work for that little money. But how much do they charge you for changes, and how hard is it to communicate with them?”

“No charge for changes, Jon. That’s a flat price. And they have people online 24/7, and they speak English. All I have to do is send them a story line.”

It’s a wake-up call. Outsourcing is bad enough, where they hire a freelancer to do your work. But at least your no-benefits replacement is an American (and maybe it’s you, on a contract this time instead of a salary). But now, as an artist, you have to also protect yourself against offshoring... where your job never comes back.

Worked as a multimedia designer at Qualcomm in San Diego. A large, efficient, high-tech corporation that designs the chips that go into your cell phone. Made engineering-training websites and e-learning modules, as part of a large 100-person technical publications department. And watched as the company expanded into India, with chip design centers in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Next came a trickle of Indian tech writers to support the Indian engineers, and then the trickle became a stream, and then the Indian writers started helping out with US-side documentation overloads, and then, by the time I retired, they had a hiring freeze on new US tech writers, but a green light to keep hiring in India.

My manager, a very sharp, highly-skilled executive, missed this one by a mile. “Look at this resumé from India,” she’d say. “Jon, they can barely write. So many spelling errors! We don’t have to worry about losing our jobs to these folks.” But she was wrong. Time went by, and, job by job, the work just went away, for all the best of reasons.

The writers from India came over for training. They were very nice people. I taught them how to use Adobe Captivate for e-learning, and others taught them how to use Framemaker for the documentation. And off they went, back with our jobs, bit by bit.

This isn’t a complaint. Qualcomm is a fine company, one of Fortune’s ‘Best 100’ places to work, year after year. But even a great management team cannot ignore economic reality. If you can hire a foreign software engineer to move here on an H-1B visa, who works for 1/3 less than their American co-worker, you will. If you can hire a writer or illustrator in India who works for 1/4 the cost of their US counterpart, even better! If you are the CEO, you have to deliver increased profits to satisfy Wall St. and your board of directors. That means increase sales and cut costs.

It’s a very simple equation, but the math doesn’t work out for high-salary US workers whose jobs are offshored. These days, you must actively plan to position yourself in work that has a lot less chance to be outsourced and offshored than the job you’re in. In upcoming chaapters, we’ll go over strategies to help you do just that.

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