All the World’s Your Stage

The most recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey shows U.S. employers expect to continue relatively strong hiring during this second quarter of 2005. Among the 16,000 organizations surveyed, the net employment outlook (the percentage of employers expecting to increase staff minus the percentage expecting to decrease payrolls) for the quarter is 23%.

Of course, U.S. employers do not operate in isolation; they are part of the global economy. Since 2002, Manpower has also surveyed countries outside of North America, including, for the first time this year, China and Taiwan. Of the 21 countries and territories in the latest survey, four Asian Pacific nations—Japan (35%), Taiwan (35%), New Zealand (30%) and China (28%)
—reported the strongest net employment outlook. (For more results, visit www.manpower.com/meos.)

Given the phenomenal growth of China’s economy and the many reports of U.S. jobs being offshored there, I’m a little surprised it isn’t in the top spot. (And I wonder if the Manpower survey will soon include India, another recipient of offshored jobs.)

Actually, no one seems to be able to nail exact data on how many jobs are going to cheaper labor markets. Economists don’t even agree on the impact of outsourcing and offshoring. Is the recent increase in these practices just another cycle of global trade, which over history has proven beneficial for all involved? Or has the game changed? Some companies that jumped on the offshoring bandwagon early are now discovering supply chain, quality or customer service problems that offset savings from low-cost labor.

No matter what, globalization, which has been around for centuries, is accelerating exponentially. The explosion of the internet, broadband and other telecommunications advances is having profound effects. “Now that brainpower can zip around the world at low cost, a global labor market for skilled workers seems to be emerging for the first time …,” noted Aaron Bernstein in BusinessWeek (“Shaking Up Trade Theory,” Dec. 6, 2004).

What’s a proactive (or already affected) quality professional to do? A good first step is to learn more. A study released late last year by the Economist offers an overview of outsourcing, including a list of other reports. (Visit www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory.cfm?story_id=3351416.)

You may also need to expand your education to a new industry or way of thinking about how quality can help organizations. The articles in this issue discuss a role for quality in global supply chains (p. 24), all the new opportunities for quality professionals (p. 33) and advice on how to protect your job if your company’s considering outsourcing its quality function (p. 77).

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