How to Weather the Outsourcing Storm

Friday, December 03, 2010

Mike Meikle

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Before the Great Recession of 2007, which is still ongoing no matter what the pundits say, IT employment had already suffered setbacks.  

The IT profession started taking on water after the Dotcom implosion and a few more bulkheads were blown in 2007. 

Those of us who have consulted across the industry have seen demoralized workforces whose compensation has fallen dramatically. What opportunities exist is mostly short term contract work that is shoveled out by dubious staff augmentation firms. 

From there the IT contractor goes through the “Burn & Churn” cycle of three to six month contracts, always on the hunt for another gig.  I wrote about this trend back in June in my “IT Job Market in Limbo” piece.

Granted there are exceptions to this cycle.  Government employees and contractors are almost completely unaffected by the past and current turmoil.  In the private sector, there are still some hold-outs where IT professionals who have been with the same company for 10+ years. 

They have not been in the job market for so long they don’t realize that the professional landscape has radically changed.  Or there are IT pros who work within the mega consultancies whose compensation and self-respect haven’t been battered by the whirling maelstrom of market forces. 

I believe 10 percent, at most, of the IT workforce still fall into this sheltered and shrinking realm.

For the other 90 percent, well, looking at the latest articles from eWeek and InfoWorld on the state of IT employment and outsourcing, it’s time to consider a dramatic change to your career plan.   

A quick overview, 2.8 million business support jobs lost since 2000, a large chunk of that being IT.  Also IT stands to lose another 450k-500K jobs by the time 2014 rolls around.  This is discussed in the eWeek article.  InfoWorld points to the 500k IT jobs lost in 2008-2009 alone. 

Also the InfoWorld article points to the rapidly increasing global competition that the U.S. worker is bumping up against.  The one “bright spot” is that IT has already borne the brunt of outsourcing and now it’s the rest of Corporate Americas turn on the Downsizing Carousel.

As I previously discussed in my “Personal Branding” article you need to set yourself apart from the pack.  Having a certification(s) to back up your experience is valuable.  It provides a short-hand for various human resource and recruiter staff who otherwise is unable to translate your experience into their client’s poorly worded resource requirement they just received at 4pm on a Friday.

I believe relying on certifications alone is a poor strategy.  Also if you have collected a ten yard long string of certifications after your name you may inadvertently scare off recruiters who believe that you are over-qualified or too expensive for a position.  That and there are scores of other IT professionals with the same certifications all jockeying for a limited pool of jobs.

In all the research I have done regarding marketing, personal and otherwise, writing is one of the top ways of setting yourself apart from the crowd. Education is the other, but in writing you are educating yourself on the topics that matter to your industry.  So while researching an article you are educating yourself on the current industry trends, a smart use of your time.

When you write or contribute to an article that relates to your profession, you are creating a product.  This product outlines how you view a pertinent industry topic and is something unique since it was created by you. 

This comes in very handy when you are discussing a topic with a potential client and you mention that you wrote an article on this very thing a few months back.  The same goes when interviewing for a position within an organization.  They can already look at a potential “work product” from you and this removes some of the uncertainty from the hiring decision.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to this approach.  If you have multiple articles and perhaps a book to your name, you are pursuing a path that will eventually deviate from standard IT employment. 

In my view this is perfectly acceptable.  With the trends in outsourcing as they are there is little future as a standard programmer, DBA, web designer, network admin, etc.  These will all be farmed out to the lowest cost environments, which will not be the United States.

An IT professional based in the U.S. will have to be exceptional, with a value proposition that sets them far apart from the low cost labor pool.  They will have the ability to bring multiple skill sets to bear on a particular project and a deep understanding of an organizations business model to deliver an effective solution (see my article on “Marketing & Selling: There’s No App for That”). 

One way to achieve that is to build an extensive “body of work” for yourself as evidence of your value to your clients.

Of course you can wail and gnash your teeth against the tide that is already swirling around the collective legs of the IT profession (see the comment section of the linked eWeek article). 

You could change careers to something that won’t be outsourced, which is a very viable option (stick with a trade profession).  Just avoid Finance, Procurement, Human Resources, Marketing and Legal since they are just hitting the outer edges of the Outsourcing Storm as we speak. 

Or you can begin to build up your personal brand so you can set yourself apart from the commoditization that is sweeping the IT industry and corporate America in general.

Cross-posted from Musings of a Corporate Consigliere

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