Ask the Experts: Economic Adaption

Q: As a student studying Computer Science, I’m worried that the growing tech bubble coupled with increasing outsourcing will make it difficult for me to find the job I want after graduation. What can I do to protect myself and get a leg up on the competition?


A: Outsourcing is a certainly a growing concern for many Americans, who see the increasingly competitive and interconnected global economy as a source of danger for typical workers. Only about half of all Americans – 52%, to be exact – favor free trade agreements, and support for free trade tends to drop during election years. On the subject of outsourcing, specifically, the numbers are even clearer: 86% of Americans believe that companies shift jobs to countries “where wages are lower.”


It should be noted, however, that not all outsourcing takes jobs out of the country. Small businesses outsource many of the day-to-day tasks that larger corporations use their own workforce for. These tasks can include everything from janitorial services to enterprise mobility services and product lifecycle management. In this case, outsourcing allows small businesses to run smoothly without having to do things like hire an entire IT department to manage just one network. This sort of outsourcing does not ship jobs overseas.


But how many jobs do go overseas? Plenty: outsourcing to China alone has cost the U.S. 3.2 million jobs since 2001. That’s a steep price to pay, though pro-trade advocates argue that the economic costs of isolationism can be worse.


Though the net economic costs are up for debate, the reality for low-wage workers is clear. Certain types of jobs are at risk of being outsourced, and are not being replaced by the same types of jobs. This is why experts say low-wage workers need to adapt to our changing economy.


That means investing in training and developing skills that will be useful in the sorts of jobs that are not being outsourced at a high rate. This could mean going back to school – something that is tough for full-time workers to do. But here, too, there are solutions. It’s now possible to get degrees as different as creative writing MFAs and HR MBAs online. Attending school online is a popular option at a time when many of us are too busy to pursue full-time or on-campus educations. The number of online students reached 5.8 million in 2014, and that number is rising. Online degrees have also seen a boost in prestige as traditional schools move onto the web and supplant for-profit colleges, which have a questionable collective reputation.


While critics note that not all low-wage workers are in a position to invest in training and education, the unfortunate truth is that the benefits of our interconnected global economy for a developed country like the United States are not focused on lower-wage jobs. Workers who fear outsourcing would be well advised to invest in training and try to move into jobs that require skilled labor, as these positions are less affected by outsourcing and put workers in a position to enjoy the benefits that economists say come with international trade.


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela


Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.