Harvard Business School professor Jim Heskett recently invited Working Knowledge readers to respond to this question: How shoud we should think about the exportation of jobs? (The question was based on his original column of the same name.) The responses he received were thoughtful and two sided, with an almost equal number of readers supporting job exportation and condemning it. A few readers noted larger social consequences of job exportation. One MBA candidate noted that increased exportation could result in increased income discrepancy and eventually increased social chaos, while another noted that many of the skilled, unemployed workers today are keeping the pharmaceutical companies fat and happy with the workers' increased use of antidepressants.
Of the dozen or more responses, however, I was surprised to see that only one touched upon innovation. The reader commented that the increased exportation will force our country to become an "innovation" economy, as we were when we moved from manufacturing to a service industry. While I agree that reviving our place as innovators is a must, I fear that all of the job exportation, especially of highly skilled labor like IT workers, will weaken our ability to remain competitive on this front. How many employers out there have had their talented IT leader take his or her ideas to start a company? I noted back in an August 2003 blog a report that cited increased R&D investment in China is helping boost innovation in that country. With increased job exportation, it would seem that we're investing in boosting innovation in other countries, perhaps increasing our own competition, while ignoring the real need to employ our own out-of-work skilled labor to come up with the "next big things."
Yes, exporting jobs can have positive effect on the bottom line, and it's absolutely beneficial to the world economy, but will boosting the bottom line in the short term have devasting long-term effects on our ability to remain leader in innovation?
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