Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If it walks like a duck... and clucks like a chicken, what is it?

Is this the future? Is this the new global worker?

There was a flurry of coverage in the press recently about IBM's decision to offer US-based employees the option of what amounts to expatriating themselves along with their newly "outsourced" jobs.

Information Week posted one of the original stories on IBM's "Project Match" which aims to move current US-based workers to offices overseas -- where those workers will be paid the prevailing wage in the destination country. Perhaps not such a bad deal if its a choice between expatriating yourself (and your family too? well, that could be a problem...) and getting laid off.

And these are the folks reportedly receiving the offer: workers who are being laid off by IBM. In addition to applying for positions in Brazil, India, Nigeria, the Czech Republic, and other offices, employees are being offered financial assistance with the move and help securing the necessary visas and permits -- both of which are among the primary roadblocks to working overseas for many.

Certainly, from the perspective of recent graduates -- who are Go Global!'s primary audience -- it seems like an excellent option.

If you are able to take a long term perspective, this could be an excellent option for all parties involved: cuts IBM's costs, gives workers (and we are all supposed to be and/or becoming "global" workers) valuable overseas experience while potentially allowing them to keep seniority and working up the hierarchy of the company, allows IBM to retain valuable employees, etc.

Of course, you're asking workers to uproot their entire lives, putting themselves -- and their families -- into a completely foreign setting, and subjecting them to what amounts to a tremendous cut in pay (softened, of course, by the lower cost of living). And there's no telling if expatriated workers would ever be able to find a place with IBM back in the States.

There has been a tremendously negative reaction to the plan. A recent story on NPR's "All Things Considered" has a bit more on the substance of the offer and the reaction. It's an intriguing -- if potentially very disruptive -- opportunity for workers. Certainly, I see no end of students who would jump at the chance: so many come into our office saying they are willing to do anything, just about anywhere, so long as they can come out of it about breaking even.

This also points to one of the other real difficulties in securing overseas work: these positions are being offered to existing workers who would otherwise be laid off -- that is, they've been with IBM for some time and have developed skill sets that IBM needs and wishes to retain. Hard to find a recent graduate with either in hand.

Even if you want to get outsourced overseas you have to "pay your dues" and "do your time".

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