This story is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series, with expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney trade accusations over who is more responsible for the outsourcing of jobs and business functions to foreign companies, we asked Canadian expat Jason Sidhu to explain why outsourcing is a ‘four-letter’ word in U.S. politics. Originally from Vancouver, he has lived in the U.S. for 14 years and works as a tech sector manager in California’s Silicon Valley – and, he outsources.
What I’ve realized in my conversations with Americans is that in order to truly understand their position on something – a position which may, at first, make no sense at all to the average Canadian – one really needs to understand their background and what experiences have influenced their perspective.
Let’s take “outsourcing” as an example.
As a Generation X-er educated in Canada and working in high tech, and as someone willing to relocate for career opportunities, I am familiar with the concepts of American author and journalist Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat. I accept that outsourcing is a normal, and often necessary, part of business today.
A typical work day in California’s Silicon Valley, where I live, consists of early morning meetings with people in Europe and late evening meetings with people in Asia.
My colleagues and I don’t really think about whether it would be better if all these people were in the U.S. It’s great to be able to tap into resources and expertise from all over the world.
In my job, I am evaluated on getting all of my projects completed on time and on budget, and if that requires sending part of the job to Bangalore, I do it without hesitation.
No one where I work really has the mindset that this is taking away a job from someone in the U.S., especially when it comes to skilled work in the areas of software engineering and development. We are all keenly aware that if our company’s products are priced too much above our competitors’, we’ll all be out of a job. So some outsourcing helps keep some jobs here in the U.S. rather than allowing foreign competitors to take all of our jobs.
The people I work with are also aware that almost anyone can be replaced or “outsourced.”
Every single quarter, I have to prove the value I am providing in business reviews, and so do all my colleagues. We all know there are other people out there ready and willing to take each of our jobs.
In the past, we only had to compete with the local talent pool. Now, we have to compete with everyone in the world.
I think that’s why most of the people I know are working so many hours and lack a work-life balance. Most of us spend our evenings reading manuals and textbooks, taking courses, getting the latest certifications and constantly trying to update our skills to keep pace with technology. Maybe your experience is similar.
But what if you were born in a small town in Middle America and lived there your entire life? What if you were told from the first day you started school that you live in the greatest country in the world and that its “exceptionalism” was something built up and passed down from generation to generation starting with the Founding Fathers?
The word “outsourcing” would be like a four-letter word to you.
The very idea that people in another country can do something better and cheaper than it can be done in the greatest country in the world would be offensive. If you were one of these Americans, you would likely see jobs moving overseas as definitive proof that big business and politicians are failing to keep America great.
This is why outsourcing strikes such a strong chord with many Americans, especially in many of the swing states. They associate it with an overall sense of decline and a loss of American “greatness.”
They don’t see that it’s mostly low-paying, unskilled labour jobs that are going overseas and that jobs for highly skilled engineers, scientists and technicians are going unfilled across the nation.
There may be very logical, rational and reasonable arguments supporting the economic benefits of outsourcing, but it’s difficult for one’s heart not to go out to a single mom trying to put her kids through school – a woman who has lived her entire life in the small town in which she was born, worked at the same manufacturing plant for 30 years, and is now on TV crying after getting laid off at age 50 with little hope of finding a similar paying job.
In America, this is the face of outsourcing.