If you can’t compete with them, why not join them?
June 18, 2009
Some years ago, I recall reading an intriguing article in Business week entitled Subcontinental Drift: More Westerners are beefing up their résumés with a stint in India. The gist of the article was that a new bred of expatriate worker, not the traditional Non-Resident Indian (NRI) or highly paid Westerners expatriate, were “chasing their jobs” to India and according to NASSCOM at the time, some 30,000 firangis or foreigners were already working for Indian technology and outsourcing companies – triple the number from 2004.
However, although the article did note that some were coming to India simply because they had few employment or career growth opportunities back home, most of the foreigners, especially those working in the call centers, seemed to just be adventurous twenty something year olds from Europe who were working to help defray the costs associated with a grand tour of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, there is apparently enough demand at least for foreigners to work in Indian based contact centers that Launch Offshore, a UK based staffing and headhunting firm, is dedicated to finding British and EU citizens to staff them.
However, its not just adventurous young Westerners who have gone to work in India in order to have an adventure. I remember hearing stories about Filipino animation professionals, who are widely regarded to be the best in the industry, having gone to India from the Philippines during the last downturn that hit the animation industry hard. Some of these Filipinos would later come back to the Philippines reporting a few horror stories of passports being taken way from them by their Indian employers and of not being properly paid – the same horror stories that can be heard from Filipinos (along with Indians and other professionals from developing countries for that matter) who go to the Middle East or elsewhere abroad to work. However at the time, there was simply no other animation jobs available anywhere else and those Filipinos who went to India helped to make the Indian animation outsourcing industry globally competitive and win outsourcing projects from the USA worth millions of dollars.
With the above in mind and the fact that there seems to be a strong prospect of a slow jobs recovery or even a jobless recovery in the West, will a wave of Westerners and American professionals in particular seriously seek career opportunities in India or in other outsourcing hubs abroad? Right now it is still to early to tell. After all, a professional in a developed country where there is some form of a social safety net is in a completely different situation from a professional in a developing country where there is little in the way of a government safety net. Furthermore, a Westerner who has spent most, if not all of his or her life, in a developed country is going to be in for much more of a cultural shock when making a move to a still developing country like India than a professional from a developing country (like the Philippines) who makes the same move or is accustomed to going abroad to seek work.
Nevertheless, a growing number of Indian based outsourcing firms now have operations abroad, including in the USA and Europe. Moreover and as part of this move abroad or in their efforts to remain globally competitive, they have made strides in putting global best practices into place. Hence and in theory, Western professionals should be more open to seriously considering a career move that might even involve working for a non-Western company in an outsourcing or an offshoring hub. Furthermore, such a reverse move, like the Filipino animators who went to India and helped to make the Indian animation outsourcing industry globally competitive, would certainly benefit up and coming outsourcing destinations or the companies based in them.
Hence, the next time you hear an American or another Westerner complain about their jobs moving overseas and opportunities disappearing due to outsourcing, why not tell just them a modified version of that old adage of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and simply tell say to them that “if you can’t compete with them, why not join them?”