Worry less about offshoring and more about investing in people

There are few topics that stir debate among IT professionals as much as offshore outsourcing. Readers of the Inside Outsourcing blog at Computerweekly.com engage in often heated exchanges on their concerns about offshoring being a threat to their jobs and livelihoods. There was anticipation that the government’s new policies on immigration would bring some clarity to the use of overseas workers.

But the exclusion of intra-company transfers (ICTs) from the immigration cap has only served to increase confusion.

Let’s be clear about one thing – offshore outsourcing is a good thing, and in a globalised industry it is inevitable. It allows UK firms access to cost-effective IT services that are essential for UK plc’s international competitiveness.

But offshoring stirs concerns about the career prospects for UK IT professionals. A future where more and more organisations relied on overseas resources – whether located offshore or working in the UK on an ICT – would lead to a dangerous decline in our local IT skills and capabilities. Our international competitiveness relies just as much on our own skills base as it does to accessing that in other countries.

The challenge is to get the balance right, and it seems unlikely that government immigration policy is going to make much difference to achieving that balance.

So it will be left to the UK IT community to work out the solution. It is not as simple as “don’t offshore” – the answer is wrapped up inside a melee of issues such as training, IT education in schools,  cost control and even emerging technology trends such as cloud computing.

It is also down to responsible employers. There are too many apocryphal stories about abuse of the system with blatant replacement of a UK worker by a cheaper one from overseas, flouting the principles if not the letter of immigration laws.

Ultimately it is an issue of investment in people. A UK software programmer would be less concerned with an offshore alternative if his or her skills were being developed and career progressed. Offshoring is a vital part of the IT leadership toolkit, but should never be a replacement for the even more important aspect of investing in your staff.