As much as many people would like to see domestic-content legislation, tax disincentives, or visa clampdowns to keep things as they were in the halcyon days, the global economy no longer abides such intervention. Employers, at least, have a way of routing around employer-averse policies, mainly by moving operations to where the climate is more favorable to them.
This isn't a judgment of what's right or wrong. It's simply what is. Suraj Prakesh, VP of global delivery for India-based Wipro, rightly notes that offshore outsourcing is considered an American boardroom success story, at least in the short term. However, the IT value chains of U.S.-based companies continue to be managed from the U.S., where much of the intellectual property still resides and much of the value is still added. If U.S. policy makers start telling those companies who they can hire and how they must function, they'll start relocating even the core of their operations elsewhere.
In a speech last week, Obama addressed the national competitiveness issue with the broadest of proposals: increasing investment in research, education, and Internet infrastructure; promoting competitive markets and entrepreneurship; and focusing on "national priorities" such as healthcare and clean energy technologies--all supported by more than $100 billion in Recovery Act funding. A hundred billion here, a hundred billion there...
More specific is Rochester Institute of Technology professor Ron Hira, who argues that U.S. policy makers must focus on the demand side of the U.S. tech labor market and not just supply. In a thought-provoking article in Issues In Science And Technology, Hira calls on the government to take the following steps toward preserving U.S. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs: collect and share more detailed and timely data on the globalization of innovation and R&D; set up an independent institute to study the implications of that globalization on the U.S. economy; engage unions and other worker groups in the STEM policy discussion, not just employers; establish continuing education and training programs for displaced STEM workers oriented around "geographically sticky" skills; and require that public-sector procurement favor tech products developed in America.
As evidence of the supply vs. demand dichotomy, two different organizations issued press releases last week offering two very different pictures of the tech economy. The Computing Technology Industry Association declared "rising optimism for the economic state of the technology industry and the overall U.S. economy" based on its survey of more than 200 U.S.-based IT organizations, conducted in May. Meantime, TechAmerica Foundation released a report, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that shows that the U.S. high-tech industry shed 115,000 jobs between January and June.
Clearly, employers and workers need to get on the same page. I'm just not confident that the government will be instrumental in leading the U.S. tech industry to the promised land.
VP and Editor in Chief
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