Outsourcing is becoming a dominant strategy that U.S. companies embrace. This report argues that while outsourcing has an immediate consequence of raising unemployment and public sentiment remains negative towards the business practice, it is very unlikely that public policy will intervene. Economically speaking, outsourcing is subjected to the laws of supply and demand and as more companies use the practice, its effectiveness will be diminished. As a result of the unlikely government intervention and the saturation of outsourcing among American businesses, companies must begin to embrace innovation as the next horizon for gaining a competitive advantage.
Outsourcing is the movement of a business process to another entity. While the term “outsourcing” is typically used in American culture to describe the movement of labor to markets abroad, it also can be used to describe the transition of a business function to a domestic for-profit agency. The impact of outsourcing on American labor markets and the overall economy is profound. The practice of outsourcing in the American economy has its roots in the automobile industry and the communications service industry. Outsourcing has grown to reach into nearly every industry as well as government. A thorough analysis of the relationship between outsourcing, profitability, and economic gains and losses has been undertaken in the following paper in order to outline the positive and negative consequences of businesses engaging in such an activity. While outsourcing is a practice unlikely to be stopped in the U.S., it will inevitably be forced to adapt as the source of competitive advantage will saturate the global market and render it less effective as a cost savings strategy.
Outsourcing of jobs has become a trend in America because labor in other countries can be performed for a fraction of what American workers are paid. Outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries is having a negative effect on American workers and the economy.
To fully understand the activity of outsourcing, it is essential to understand how it is currently perceived in the American culture. Outsourcing has received a significant amount of poor media and is generically understood as a business engaging in the practice of firing and displacing American workers and moving their jobs abroad in order to save in wage expense. While this activity certainly does occur, it is only a partial understanding of the issue at hand. On the contrary, business professionals are under tremendous amounts of pressure to produce profits for shareholders. Executives are given performance ratings associated with metrics such as return on investments, reducing costs, and increasing sales. Overall, the goal is to increase profitability by using a variety of income and expense tactics in concert. Often times, the largest cost of a business is paying employees’ wages.
The literature on outsourcing has indentified key trends to the nature and extent of outsourcing in the American economy. A recent research article presented by Lach (2012) presents much of this data and identifies five current facts about U.S. outsourcing –
1.) “U.S. multinationals shifted millions of jobs overseas in the 2000s.
2.) As overseas outsourcing has expanded, U.S. manufacturing has suffered the brunt of the blow.
3.) The global electronics contract manufacturing industry reached a staggering $360 billion of revenue in 2011 and is expected to expand to $426 billion by 2015.
4.) Private equity firms have increased the pressure to cut costs by any means necessary, leading to more overseas outsourcing.
5.) Labor costs are the main driver of corporations sending jobs overseas, but foreign countries’ costs are increasing compared to the United States.”
The research shows that millions of jobs are being moved by U.S. companies to foreign markets (Lach, 2012). While the research does not indicate the details or reasons why, it is occurring at a high rate. The majority of the outsourcing occurred in the manufacturing sector of the American economy. This indicates a difficulty of American manufacturers in competing with other global manufacturers. Since the 1940s, manufacturing jobs have been successful in expanding the middle class and driving the U.S. economy. The losses in this sector are a tremendous blow to the middle class and the overall economy. Detroit provides an example of the negative impact that the loss of manufacturing can have on a community. A key driver is the cost of labor in the U.S. comes at an increased expense and that expense is passed to the consumer in higher prices. U.S. consumers, preferring lower prices, may be indirectly encouraging businesses to outsource to remain competitive on price point.
Wages, being a significant cost center, become an easy target for reduction strategies to support the overall goal of increasing profits. One such strategy that has proven effective is outsourcing both core and non-core labor components. A core labor component for a manufacturing company is line operators and a non-core labor component would be accounts receivable staff. While it is often not necessary to reduce wages considerably due to acceptable performance levels, when a business is struggling to remain solvent, outsourcing, in terms of moving large pools of labor abroad, can be readily adopted as a method to simply survive. As international business competition increases on the global scale, and American businesses are further pressured to remain efficient, more and more companies will be pressured to expand their operations through outsourcing (Durvasula & Lysonki, 2009). Environmental conditions have made the world smaller in terms of business and have opened up increased competition from global competitors within American markets. Due to the change in global business climate and competition, outsourcing will be used more in the future than it has been in the past.
The bottom line is outsourcing saves American companies money. While there are long-term economic consequences that will be addressed, the primary purpose is to save the business money. According to Anderson (2005) any anti-outsourcing legislation is an effort to restrict competition and that has negative economic impacts for a global market. The argument is that outsourcing creates an increase of wealth for businesses that in turn spend additional dollars in the U.S. markets in the form of investments. Anderson (2005) supported outsourcing by stating that any state or government that restricts a company’s ability to outsource is sending a message to other businesses abroad to be cautious before outsourcing their services to America. Outsourcing is not a one-way street as some companies operating in overseas markets would desire to gain access to the American consumer base. Restrictions, Anderson (2005) argues, places a significant barrier of entry in the strategic though process within a company that may be considering a move into the U.S. market that would provide additional jobs. Therefore, the attempt to prevent outsourcing and competition only creates an environment where the U.S. is limiting itself to a one-way outsourcing-street away from its own economy.
Business leaders are driven to outsource non-core activities for good reason; however, the public sentiment towards outsourcing remains, in general, negative. Outsourcing is often viewed and perceived by the public on media outlets as being the cause for the destruction of the American economy and current recession, auto industry, or unemployment. To complicate the issue further, these ideals may be driven deeper by political parties marketing unfavorable opinion of outsourcing when seeking reelection. The outsourcing issue has two sides – the positive and negative. The research by Durvasula and Lysonki (2009) has shown promise in public relations strategies that effectively address outsourcing in an open and honest manner – “economic threat and consumer ethnocentrism have a negative impact on offshoring attitudes while perceived quality of services delivered by offshore firms has a positive effect.” While outsourcing can negatively impact the labor market and be the cause of an individual’s job loss, it may also be essential for company sustainability. Effective public relations strategies aimed at combating negative public sentiment through explaining the overall benefits to the customer, business, and overall economy can be successful in changing public opinion.
Outsourcing is a hotly debated topic, and as a result, many Americans who have the front-row seat to the debate or have lost jobs themselves, are worried about losing their current job. Reports indicate that a large number of jobs are moving to foreign lands. These reports are on the news nearly every night when unemployment results are given. Further clarification is needed to illustrate a true picture of the movement of jobs overseas. For example, outsourcing can be used to describe a company moving jobs to another country, but remaining within the same company. While the labor pool is being moved to other markets, and this may negatively impact the U.S. economy, the workers may have been given the option to move with their job. These intricate facts are often not shared by media outlets and the result can be public outcry. According to Plunkett Research (Lach, 2012) “The tendency among many U.S., Japanese and Western European firms to send both knowledge-based and manufacturing work to third-party firms in other nations. Often, the intent is to take advantage of lower wages and operating costs.” This research illustrates the one-sided view of outsourcing that is typically understood by the general public. On the other hand, Plunkett Research (Lach, 2012) defines the other side of outsourcing as simply hiring another company to complete a task that would ordinarily have to be completed in-house. This activity is much more positive, in that, businesses can become more efficient by using another company’s expertise while saving time and labor-related costs.
Communications is a leading industry in outsourcing labor. The U.S. has an arguably inflated belief that all communications jobs are being outsourced to places like India. Consumers are often quick to joke that when customer service is called, a language barrier exists to the point of misunderstanding language or not understanding at all. Frustration is often expressed using the paradox of buying American goods only to call customer support and identifying that this component of the business has been outsourced to an overseas market. The last two points made by Lach (2012) identify the pressures on corporate executives to choose outsourcing as a viable option that has its roots firmly in the 1980s - “Corporate executives came to fear that if they did not run their businesses with the aim of maximizing short-term profits and share prices, their companies would become takeover targets and they would be out of a job. Overnight, outsourcing became a manhood test for corporate executives.” The action of outsourcing, on the side of business strategy, was originally driven by the pressure to perform and the executives’ fear of corporate takeover and the feeling of personal failure.
Recent changes in U.S. taxation code that seek to reduce outsourcing have threatened economic growth in India. While America suffers the labor market detriments of offshore outsourcing, India embraces the expansion of the job market and reduced levels of unemployment. According to Nair (2010) “Major pharmaceutical companies in India are concerned about US President Obama's proposed tax code. In a bid to solve the problem of increasing job losses in the United States, Obama has reiterated a campaign pledge to end tax breaks for American firms that outsource jobs overseas.” The economic pressure of increased taxation works as a mitigating factor in the executive decision making process. Obama has effectively established a barrier to outsource savings by increasing taxes to businesses that shift labor abroad. The pharmaceutical industry is a global market that has to behave according to international economic constraints. India has performed strongly on the receiving end of outsource contracts. India is growing in credibility in the communications, chemical, research and development, and dosage areas of the pharmaceutical business (Nair, 2010). Indian firms have recognized that specializing in certain key areas attract the business of pharmaceutical companies that have less experience or expertise. In response to Obama’s tax code, many Indian contract organizations are beginning to expand upon their expertise into other areas such as “biopharmaceutical manufacturing, including those involving monoclonal antibodies, complex proteins, peptides, chiral-chemistry, oligonucleotides, DNA vaccines, and gene therapy” (Nair, 2010). The Indian response is powerful, in that, they are effectively adding to their menu of outsourcing options and increasing the attractiveness of outsourcing to businesses versus the negative consequences of increased taxation. For the American business, the outsourcing option in the pharmaceutical sector may be decided as a competition between outsourcing and paying more in taxes against keeping labor domestic and receiving a discount on tax payment.
Outsourcing can even impact those with professional-level degrees. A recent trend in outsourcing involves the movement of engineering to markets abroad. As a result of the economic trend in recession, many of the brightest college graduates who have advanced degrees are forced to obtain work in other countries. The flow of U.S. professionals to emerging countries has the negative impact of losing innovation. The long-term consequence of a lack of intelligent professionals is the U.S. will lose its competitive advantage in human capital and the innovative technologies that drive consumer spending. According to Kilbane (2013) “there is a single engineering company with 3,700 employees working overseas with work visas.” Certain steps must be taken to prevent the continued transfer of high-wage jobs offshore. Students who are weighing their options in selection of a career are watching this phenomenon and noticing that to be successful as an engineer carries with it the mandate to move to another country. This works as a deterrent in the field of engineering and puts a barrier of entry to those students who may provide the nation with the next innovation. The transfer of high paying jobs is not exclusive to the engineering industry.
The legal profession is also experiencing a trend in global outsourcing. According to Krishnen (2007) the largest importer of legal professionals is India. The legal profession operates under a business model as well. When sales, or legal work, is down the business has to look for ways to cut back in order to survive. When underdeveloped economies move to industrialize and increase business activity, a symptom of that growth is an explosion of legal activity required to set up business entities, protect consumer interests, and criminal court related to charges like fraud. Lawyers then begin looking to other markets to have a job in their career field. While the U.S. has a demand for legal work related to business interests, there is more law students graduating then is needed to meet the volume of legal work being produced. New graduates of law schools are finding it hard to find work within the U.S.. As a result many law students are looking abroad to find a job in their career path. According to the argument by Patel (2010) “the current recession should compel the legal industry to reassess its position in an increasingly globalizing world by reevaluating outsourcing regulations.” Due to the recession, legal outsourcing will grow in response to the economic pressures. Regulations can be established to protect the legal profession and keep legal professionals from going overseas.
The military is a new horizon of outsourcing. While the U.S. is not currently engaged in the hiring of mercenaries, there are contracts awarded for military support that have been extended to overseas markets. The outsourcing of military work has been identified by the media and public scrutiny is under way. According to Erwin (2009) “the Obama administration has unleashed plan to curtail outsourcing and bring more work in-house. But one area where the practice is not likely to slow down is weapons maintenance.” Due to the increase in recent war activity that stretches back to Operation Desert Storm there is an increasing need for government contracts to support the war efforts. Military support contracts are made with private organizations to complete tasks like manufacturing weapons systems, producing airplanes, and even some security services. According to the article “the Defense Department has supported the use of contracts as money-savers because contractors make much of the upfront investment…contracts have grown from $1.4 billion in 2011 to $5 billion in 2009 and an expected $7.4 billion by 2013.” The trend of military outsourcing is frightening as there should be a significant separation between big business and government. Dwight Eisenhower famously warned the country in his 1961 speech to the nation about the growing “military-industrial complex” (Avalon, 2013). The advanced foresight showed Eisenhower’s deep knowledge of the growing relationship between big business and government. Certainly, he knew the outstanding consequences of giving any control of the military to the business sector. Big business can now influence government through the use of money. The politicians, having received significant amounts of money to persuade public policy, can then make decisions in regards to war. In essence, big businesses are poised to collect dollars from outsourced contracts when there is a time of war.
The U.S. government even engages in the outsourcing of intelligence by contracting with spies. According to Shorrock (n.d.) “the CIA and other intelligence agencies now have more contractors than their own people working as spies.” The contractors perform tasks such as controlling satellites, interrogating terrorists, or translating communications. The vast majority, however, involves the management of information technology systems. This example provides many questions in regards to the government and its decision making process in regards to outsourcing. The example does support the argument that outsourcing is pervasive in today’s economy. In the era of Eisenhower, America called the military the “military-industrial complex” Today, it might be called the intelligence-industrial complex due to the heightened level of intelligence-based contracts to private entities. According to Hurt (2008) “America is ruled by an 'intelligence-industrial complex' whose allegiance is not to the taxpaying public but to a cabal of private-sector contractors that have disgraced our national image and potentially compromised our national security for the sake of making profits.” The very nature of this relationship proves the extent of outsourcing in the American culture; outsourcing is pervasive and there is no end in sight.
In response to public outcry and to engage a public relations strategy, some companies have decided to reverse the decision to outsource and bring jobs back to the American economy. This simply means that companies are now taking back control of some processes that were once outsourced as well as companies changing work locations from places overseas to places domestic. This action is a result of the action of outsourcing providing more consequences than were expected. The consequences range from a lack of performance to public relations nightmares. This poses a high degree of uncertainty in the market as to what competencies should be outsourced and what actions should remain in-house. In this case, the outsourcing strategy became a form of experimentation as companies started to realize the outsourcing did not provide the cost savings in which were determined earlier. There are consequences of outsourcing hidden under the implied potential for cost savings. Those consequences can come in multiple forms such as an inability or difficulty in managing long-distance relationships, communications with another organization with twelve hours of time difference, innovation, and the inherent need for humans to have direct contact with the areas of control (Baldwin, 2006). For these reasons, companies that once decided to outsource labor have now made the decision to do the opposite to ease operational difficulties.
There are defendants of outsourcing as a source of economic gain. They argue that the public is overly critical of the concept that outsourcing is to blame for America’s economic woes. They argue that the public accuses the company for the economic recession. The reality is that technology has opened the door for outsourcing at an unprecedented level. According to Taylor (2005) “much of the public furor over outsourcing begins with an incorrect premise: that a surge of imports in services has led to a substantial reduction in American jobs. But there’s no empirical basis for thinking either that foreign goods and services are flooding the U.S. economy or that such a flow is costing American jobs.” Even the most critical analysts agree that outsourcing can benefit a company through cost savings. Therefore, is it possible that a single company’s desire to gain a competitive advantage will collectively hurt the American economy? The supporters of outsourcing believe that the company’s interests in remaining viable are also the best option for the economy in the global marketplace. The supporters argue that an increase in competitiveness through reduced expenses on labor will also create a price point for goods that is lower than current levels. In essence, this helps to increase the spending power of those workers by offering a lower price point for goods and services.
There are examples of American business professionals working to help provide an incentive for U.S. graduates to prevent outsourcing. As discussed, the technology and communications industry is a hotbed of outsourcing activity. According to Carneval (2006) many companies are developing an extension of their existing operations designed to attract students while still in college by giving them experience in the field of computer technology. Rural Sourcing, Inc. is an example of such a company. Rural Sourcing, Inc. partners with larger organizations to complete lower-level work that may be troublesome to advanced professionals. According to Carneval (2006) Rural Sourcing “is working with five colleges in three states to set up office parks where locally hired employees are building computer applications and Web services for its clients. Colleges in those areas benefit from a nearby employer to provide on-the-job experience for students and graduates in information technology.”In order to free up the company’s time for more advanced core work, college students are then assigned the lower-level work. In return, the college students receive experience and reduced wages. The benefit for the larger organization is the ability to free-up some time among professional staff as well as incubate a pool of potential future work candidates. In addition, the larger company does not have to consider hiring additional staff at advanced grade pay to complete what might be considered a mundane task among seasoned professionals.
The decision to outsource is based in various assumptions. The answer to outsourcing may be in the development of a working model that encourages a data driven support approach. While outsourcing may appear to be exclusive to the U.S., in reality, companies all over the world make outsourcing decisions all the time. The global market creates an environment of increased competitiveness and forces companies to develop new competitive advantages. Outsourcing has become a business activity that can be implemented as a strategy to increase competitiveness. Outsourcing does allow, regardless if the outsourcing is domestic or abroad, a company to focus on core competencies. This supports the strategic mission to do something really well and allow someone else to complete your task with their own core competencies.
The alliance approach creates a synergy in better products and services overall. According to Jafarnejad, Sherafat, Taghavi, Morshed and Talab (2013) there is a systematic process that can be outlined to show the decision making process in regards to outsourcing. Their (ibid) work showed that outsourcing occurs for the following reasons: “increasing labor productivity, reduce maintenance costs, focusing on in-house personnel on core activities, reducing management effort, obtaining specialist skills not available in-house, fluctuations in workload, increasing access to specialist equipment, improving equipment uptime, reducing risk, improving labor productivity, improving work quality, reducing influence of trade unions, improving environmental performance, and keeping pace with rapidly changing technology.” By studying these motivating factors in the outsourcing decision making process, professionals can better determine if outsourcing is the best option. There are now systematic modes that executives can use that support a decision for or against outsourcing a component of the business.
Outsourcing may not know any boundaries. It has been shown that the cost reductions and efficiencies of outsourcing are a factor in the company’s ability to manage costs and increase profitability. At this point there is little questioning if outsourcing is effective in helping businesses remain competitive. As more and more companies begin to employ outsourcing as a competitive advantage strategy, the saturation removes the power of outsourcing when everyone is doing it. The question then becomes – What is the next horizon for outsourcing as a means of supplying competitive advantage? Bajec and Jokomin (2011) argue that the next area of outsourcing is in the intelligence and information technology arena. The next phase of outsourcing application is held with the realization that competitive advantage is derived from innovation. Intelligence outsourcing is the reinvention of the business model through increased innovation and revenues. An enhanced focus on innovation can work to provide outsourcers a new competitive advantage against other companies who also engage in outsourcing. Many companies in the future will have experienced success in outsourcing to lower expenses. Since outsourcing will eventually saturate the markets, competitive advantage through the use of outsourcing alone will no longer prevail. Intelligence outsourcing to improve innovation can support business growth while traditional outsourcing does not (Bajic and Jokomin, 2011). Outsourcing can also draw too much executive attention away from other business tools such as innovation and adaptability.
On a practical level, outsourcing will never be stopped. Theoretically, outsourcing could be stopped if a number of conditions were met. Primarily, outsourcing could end if businesses decided to end the practice themselves. Due to the popularity and effectiveness of outsourcing practices in gaining competitive advantage, this is not likely at all. Outsourcing has proven itself as effective in increasing profitability and that’s the bottom line. In theory, the only entity large enough to stop outsourcing in American business is the American government. As the number of government contracts rise in reflection of the wartime effort, outsourcing has become a popular tool among officials to return the favors. The practicality of government stopping outsourcing is outlandish given the relationship between politicians and big business. The global economy will continue to create an environment where outsourcing is an option.
While saving money is truly important, the access to new talent, adaptability, and innovative foresight is future of outsourcing. According to Bajic and Jokomin (2011) “from an innovation and long-term competitiveness perspective, the traditional cost concerns are far less important than the question of how to identify and to retain a company’s competitive core and not to lose its ability to compete in fast-moving and unpredictable markets.” When outsourcing becomes a tool used by all competitors, the question will remain – Who has the best people on board to encourage innovation and new product development? Companies are discovering that even higher returns can be derived by employing a new type of intelligent outsourcing. Innovation is the next frontier on a company’s ability to differentiate itself from the competition.
Outsourcing is a global phenomenon with no end in sight. The practice started with providing a competitive advantage among companies in the marketplace. Wages, being a significant cost center, become an easy target for reduction strategies to support the overall goal of increasing profits. Under economic stressors, companies were able to find a competitive advantage in outsourcing core competencies as well as shifting labor overseas. Business leaders are driven to outsource non-core activities for good reason; however, the public sentiment towards outsourcing remains negative. To truly understand the complexities of the outsourcing discussion, it is imperative to realize the perception of outsourcing in the public’s eye as being negative and arguably the cause of the recession. Outsourcing is a hotly debated topic, and as a result, many Americans who have the front-row seat to the debate or have lost jobs themselves, are worried about losing their current job. As more companies employ outsourcing as a driver of reduced costs, the market will become saturated and the tactic will no longer be a source of competitive advantage. While outsourcing started in the automotive and communications industries, it has grown to include professional level employees with advanced degrees in law and computer systems. In addition, the military engages in high levels of contracting as a form of outsourcing. The military outsourcing comes in the form of the military industrial complex.
The nature of the relationship between politicians and big business act as a tremendous barrier to legislation imposing a threat to outsourcing strategies. Beyond the unlikely event that outsourcing will be stopped, the very nature of outsourcing as we know it today will eventually adapt to a changing global marketplace. Outsourcing was once used as a source of competitive advantage; however, it is growing with acceptance and saturating markets internationally. As the market becomes saturated with any practice, including outsourcing, the effectiveness of that practice becomes limited. The future of outsourcing can be found in new and innovation models of outsourcing that focus on intelligence. While saving money is truly important, the access to new talent, adaptability, and innovative foresight is future of outsourcing. When outsourcing becomes a tool that any company is willing to use, the model for success will immediately return to what company employs the greatest source of human capital.
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