For quite some time I have been concerned about the commercial drive to move roles off-shore. I’m an accountant, I understand the business drivers to reduce costs and maximise profit. I am sure the concerns I express here were expressed in a similar fashion during the industrial revolution.
Today I notice yet another move to out-source call centres by “partnering” with Telstra. Telstra’s call centre is off-shore: it is reasonable to consider Telstra may move these jobs off-shore as well.
We’ve seen the demise of the local car manufacturing industry. Even some high-end clothing labels have moved their production off-shore. Lower costs. Every business wants lower costs, increased margins, more profit, better returns to the shareholders. It is the nature of free enterprise.
Australia is an island – a continent, but an island. An island quite a distance from everywhere else except New Zealand. In July youth unemployment in Australia hit a 12-year high and remains around 15%. Although the statistics tell us we have about the same number of young people looking for work as we did 30 years ago when the population was considerably smaller, the casualisation of the workforce is higher. Some young people have work, but not enough of it. There is more encouragement to study, so many young people are not registered as seeking work, even if they are studying because they couldn’t get work.
We are not all degree qualified professionals and we don’t all have children that are or want to be university qualified. If we keep sending jobs off-shore, where are the jobs for our children and grand-children? Will they have to relocate to distant lands to find work?
While I recognise that our standard of living is far higher than many other countries and we don’t like paying the prices for goods manufacturered here that result, are we cutting off our noses to spite our faces?
Let us look back at the industrial revolution.
We learned that industrial production increased tremendously, bringing wealth and power to Great Britain throughout the 19th century. But we have yet to explore the effects of industrialization on society, on the daily living and the working conditions of common people.
Since the Industrial Revolution was so new at the end of the 18th century, there were initially no laws to regulate new industries. For example, no laws prevented businesses from hiring seven-year-old children to work full time in coal mines or factories. No laws regulated what factories could do with their biohazard waste.
Times must have been very tough for a great many people. Yet the population of the world was nowhere near what it is today.
During the Industrial Revolution in Britain there was high unemployment – up to 75% in some trades. For many of those that did work, life was extremely arduous. There are countless examples available of harsh working conditions, particularly in coal mines.
The western world recovered – or did it? There was, after all, the Great Depression. More recently we suffered the Global Financial Crisis. Bumps on the road of progress? Maybe.
Are we setting ourselves up for countries of “haves” and “have-nots”? Are we creating a commercial environment where our own children and grandchildren will become economic migrants merely to be able to feed themselves? Once in a land of “have-nots”, will they earn enough to be able to visit their families in Australia? Will families be separated for ever?
We will still need cleaners, waitresses, laundry workers in hospitals and people to collect the garbage produced by a throw-away society. Yet with ever advancing technology those jobs are even now drastically reduced in number. I remember the garbage collection requiring three people. These days one driver achieves the same result with trucks designed to lift and empty the bins. Cleaning equipment advances mean greater areas cleaned faster requiring less staff.
“Before starting work for the dole, I was doing the jobseeker diaries, doing those quotas, so all up getting up to 100 jobs,” he said.
“I haven’t even gotten as far as interviews.”
Like hundreds of thousands of other young people, he does not really have a choice. He will keep searching.
I remember arriving here in 1974. I came for a four week holiday and decided to stay. The next day I had a job. I was eighteen with no qualifications, just three years work experience. I compare that with my eldest daughter’s recent job hunting after ten years experience with the one company. Like the young man quoted above, she struggled to get interviews for twelve months. I compare my experience with Miss O 1, seeking a first job opportunity. Times have certainly changed.
I was speaking to an American recently whose brother has first hand experience. While the latter has been forced by his company to out-source work overseas and now manages a contract rather than staff, his own children cannot find work in America. It isn’t just manufacturing or call centre jobs either. Systems programming and support sent off-shore means even university qualified people can struggle to find work.
Larry Summers, a former American treasury secretary, looked at employment trends among American men between 25 and 54. In the 1960s only one in 20 of those men was not working. According to Mr Summers’s extrapolations, in ten years the number could be one in seven.
As with the Industrial Revolution, society will change and adapt, but at what human cost? We still don’t understand the human cost of the Industrial Revolution and we are embarking on a new revolution. Our children must prepare for employment possibilities of the future than we cannot even envisage now, just as no-one in 1850 envisaged computers in every home. In fact, in 1943 the Chairman of IBM thought there was a world market for five computers. My grandchildren may be employed as teleportation machine operators or control taxis remotely. We don’t know. Yet.
“In times of change, the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” ~ Eric Hoffer
I hope we can move through to the future without destroying too many of us along the journey.