Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Outsourcing and Education

David Wessel on Outsourcing takes the education/employment discussion from my last post out into the future, including the difficulty in trying to project employment trends for individual occupations. I liked this simple distinction between jobs that will be easy or difficult to outsource:
"In trying to discern persistent trends, Mr. Levy distinguishes between jobs that require workers to follow rules and those that require them to recognize patterns. The first -- whether in manufacturing or services -- are vulnerable to technology and outsourcing. The second are less vulnerable."
Much of my objection to current trends in K-12 education toward standardization stems from this fact -- it isn't preparing students to think. They might be great at following rules and meeting standards, but that type of "knowledge" sets them up to be worker drones or pursuing careers that will be done cheaply offshore. The follow-up to the WSJ article on the same site is even better, although it's quite long and a bit dense: Thinking About Outsourcing.

Their argument is one of those compelling left-right splits that seem confusing at first. They're not advocating protectionism or a movement to stop outsourcing -- it's almost as if they believe that free global markets are inevitable anyway -- but instead say that governments in the west should be investing heavily in retraining and social services to ease the transition to the next type of economy once many today's "good jobs" have moved offshore:
"For we have not, we do not as a country make the investments in retraining and rebuilding needed to transfer some of the gains from the winners to the losers, and so make the process of economic change truly a win-win one."
I would tend to agree with the spirit of the idea, but retraining for what?! Haven't most retraining efforts (I'm thinking specifically of successive waves of inititatives in the Maritimes that seemed to fail miserably) been terrible at anticipating the needs of emerging markets and preparing workers from disappearing sectors for new types of work? Just putting everyone on the dole for a while and hoping that they'll land on their feet can't be the answer either...

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