Offshoring 101: How to minimize the risk to your career

Here are some tips for building skills that increase your marketability

The debate surrounding offshoring may have cooled somewhat in recent months, but many IT professionals in the U.S. remain concerned about losing their jobs to employees overseas. Little wonder, considering that a white paper released late last year by Ventoro, an offshoring research and consulting firm, showed that 95% of Fortune 1,000 firms currently have an offshore strategy in place. The report also indicated that a sizable number of companies are planning to explore offshore options or increase spending in this area.

However, even if you've begun to hear rumblings within your organization about moving some IT operations overseas, a number of factors may prevent your firm from doing so:

  • Unconfirmed benefits. The primary motivation for utilizing offshore options is the belief that relocating certain IT functions to India, China, Russia and other nations where labor costs are dramatically reduced will save money. But more than half of the organizations polled by Ventoro reported no savings -- and even increased expenses -- as a result of offshoring.
  • Security concerns. Threats to a company's confidential data, especially in light of global security and identity-theft concerns, mean that firms are extremely cautious about who has access to their systems. For this reason, many, particularly those in government, health care and financial fields, have not pursued outsourcing in order to maintain direct control over sensitive information.
  • Quality control. With workers half a world away, companies that offshore may find it difficult to ensure quality service and product development.
  • Managing resources. Moving IT operations overseas is neither simple nor inexpensive. Planning often takes months, if not years, and involves complex coordination within the company and among outside vendors. In addition, communications can be challenging as a result of time, language and cultural differences. For small businesses, the time and resource investment is often not worth potential cost savings.

IT workers should also keep in mind that offshoring has yet to have a significant impact on overall U.S. employment levels. And the practice may even present new career opportunities for those who position themselves well. Jobs that involve routine or tactical tasks, such as some types of call center operations, desktop support and software distribution, are at the greatest risk of being outsourced. In light of this, professionals who re-evaluate their careers and pursue more strategic roles can help isolate themselves from potential job losses. For example, a programmer or developer may decide to pursue a position as architect to ensure his job security.

The key to capitalizing on the opportunities offshoring presents is to build skills that maximum your marketability, including the following:

  • Knowledge of the subject. Remaining up to date on offshoring trends is crucial if you wish to stay a step ahead. Market research and consulting organizations such as Forrester Research and Gartner, as well as trade publications like Computerworld, can be great sources of information.
  • A global perspective. With work teams spread across the globe, knowledge of various cultures, languages and business customs can increase your marketability. If you have the opportunity, it may be wise to gain experience interacting with professionals in multiple locations and countries.
  • Strong technical abilities. Standing still is the worst thing you can do for your career. As a technology becomes commonplace and is mastered by more people, it becomes easier to outsource work done on this application. As a result, you must remain on the cutting edge to not just thrive but survive.

    Training courses offered through local technical colleges, professional association involvement and studying you pursue on your own can help you identify emerging areas of specialization and become an early adopter of new technologies.

    A growing field you may consider exploring is security, based on the demand for technologies that help companies assess and remedy system vulnerabilities. Individuals with LAN/WAN, WLAN management and systems administration, virtual private network, TCP/IP, intrusion-detection and firewall implementation experience are well suited for security positions.
  • Soft skills. Strong soft skills can be the characteristic that most separates you from other IT professionals. In a survey by Robert Half Technology, CIOs said the key soft skills for job seekers to possess were interpersonal skills, the ability to work under pressure and communication skills. Employers today seek individuals who can convey complex technical information to varied audiences, build rapport with end users and serve as vital members of project teams.
  • Business acumen. Firms value employees who can provide big-picture views and insight into how technology can benefit their short- and long-term goals. The more valuable your insights are to a company, the greater your chances of job security and career advancement with that organization.

    An increased demand for individuals with strong business acumen is creating openings for project managers who have the ability to lead technology initiatives from start to finish. It is unlikely that these positions will be outsourced, because time differences, a lack of face-to-face interaction and other factors make doing so difficult.
  • Flexibility. In a survey of CIOs commissioned by Robert Half Technology, respondents said the ability to easily adapt to change was the most important characteristic for success. As businesses continue to reinvent themselves and alter their practices in light of offshoring, your flexibility can position you as a valuable resource within your firm.
  • Leadership experience. Outsourcing has created a need for outsourcing managers, or IT professionals who oversee all aspects of a company's work with overseas vendors. The best candidates for these positions have management experience and continue to build their skills in this area by volunteering for cross-departmental projects at work and enrolling in professional development courses.

Though the final verdict on offshoring may not be known for some time, the fact remains that this trend has already begun to significantly shape the IT field and your career. Realize that offshoring can often present new opportunities for your professional advancement, and position yourself for success in this new landscape by remaining current on the issue, identifying new career paths and building your bank of marketable skills.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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