Globalization: Good for Quality?

After more than two years of economic doom and gloom, experts are cautiously projecting a sustainable recovery may be under way. It may even include employment, which has stubbornly remained depressed while other areas, such as stocks and consumer confidence, have improved.

Something tells me quality professionals aren't celebrating yet.

Next month QP will release the results of the 2003 salary survey, which show the weak labor market catching up with ASQ members. This had not been the case with the 2001 and 2002 surveys, though anecdotal evidence indicated some members were affected--in the worst case, losing their jobs.

It's no secret the hardest hit sector of the U.S. economy has been manufacturing, in which about 65% of ASQ members work. This sector alone accounts for 2.3 million of the 2.7 million jobs lost since the recession began in March 2001, according to a recent article on CNN/Money (www.money.cnn.com).

More and more reports are saying many of those jobs may never come back, partly due to rising productivity but mainly because of increased outsourcing of work overseas. As part of globalization, many U.S. corporations are taking advantage of cheaper labor in other countries to cut costs and, some executives insist, ensure their companies' very survival.

The overseas movement is also affecting service areas, especially IT and other industries comprised mainly of highly skilled, white collar jobs. (Some people say this situation is exacerbated by visa programs that allow U.S. employers to hire noncitizens.) Again, this affects quality professionals; 19% of ASQ members work in service. Forrester Research, a consulting firm, predicts 3.3 million service jobs will move to countries such as China, India and Russia in the next 15 years, according to another CNN/Money article.

One of the responses to this shift is a growing backlash against free trade. Grass-roots groups such as the Organization for the Rights of American Workers (www.toraw.org) and Save American Manufacturing Now (www.samnow.org) are springing up; members include CEOs of both small and large companies who believe that to compete in today's global economy, they have no choice but to use cheaper labor in other countries.

Economists who support free trade counsel patience and say this phenomenon is another natural evolution, just as our economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing in the early 1900s, then to information later in the century. They argue these changes have always been for the better; the key is  education and training to prepare for the next shift.

No matter who's right, quality professionals will continue to be affected, so stay tuned for an article on outsourcing in an upcoming issue. Meanwhile, if you have experience or thoughts about how globalization is  affecting quality jobs, please write to editor@asq.org.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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