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Is Your Job In or Out?

It's almost trite to say that computers and the Internet are changing the world — including our careers. A new book discusses the kinds of jobs that are likely to endure and those that will fall by the wayside.

In The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, economists Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane state that "rules-based" repetitive jobs, such as back-office and assembly-line work, are most likely to be contracted to a lower-wage country. Jobs that involve complex communication, and identifying and solving new problems are less vulnerable.

What's more counterintuitive, however, is that low-skilled service jobs, such as janitors, waiters and security guards, are also less prone to be off-shored, Levy and Murnane say. They show that the percentage of U.S. employees holding these jobs — as well as sales, technical and professional positions — has grown over the last 30 years, while manufacturing and clerical jobs — or rules-based jobs — have declined.

When writing about Kinetics self-service machines, Fast Company senior writer Charles Fishman says that "it's unlikely that these machines will mean the end of ticket agents, rental-car clerks, or the front-desk staff at hotels. Instead, those jobs will change — and eventually, there may be more of them, not fewer, because of self-service."

Levy and Murnane's new book provides an explanation to the phenomenon: As automation attracts more customers, there's more demand for personalized service and trouble-shooting, something that computerized programs or voice-mail systems cannot do.

Or not even call-center staff overseas, for that matter. Recently, I asked my bank to add a co-signer to my account but hadn't received a new card by the due date. I called the 800 number on the back of my card and spent 20 minutes speaking to two people with the South Asian accent, who read me rules off the computer screen. I then went to a local bank branch and talked to a customer rep. A week later, I got a new card.

Much has been said about off-shoring, but it helps to know what jobs we are better at than machines — and people overseas.

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  • M. Russell Stewart

    Avi Solomon has found the key! Stop complaining to the corporations and even the government, waiting for someone else to forge your future for you, and make life happen for yourself! Yes, the economic implications of offshoring are definitely not clear at this time. However, ALL of us can do something about it's potential right now by taking our destiny in our own hands.

    I cannot ever expect my company, nor my profession, to assure that I will always have a job. Only I can assure that. It's about time we watch "Office Space" again.

  • Avi Solomon

    When I saw that my white collar job(Tech Writer/Team Leader) was about to be outsourced to India, I made the jump to being a professional Gardener.You can't outsource trees, leaves & grass!
    As a bonus I breathe fresh air & stay healthy-no stupid meetings to attend:)

  • Angela

    "What's more counterintuitive, however, is that low-skilled service jobs, such as janitors, waiters and security guards, are also less prone to be off-shored, Levy and Murnane say."

    Eureka! Jobs that require you to be physically present will not be off-shored! This is tremendously counterintuitive.


  • Richard Feynman

    Another thing I must point out is that you cannot prove a vague theory wrong.

  • Simon from London

    It is sometimes said that no one ever outsourced a call centre to improve the customer experience. There is plenty of truth to that - many companies just look at the cost line, assume that a certain number of customers will walk away because of the inconvenience to them, and decide that they can live without those fussy customers.

    The problem is that those customers are never coming back. Nor are their family members and friends who have been warned about the bad service. In the long run, people may get used to poorer service, but opportunities are being missed to win and keep good customers.

    We are seeing the pendulum swing one way this year. In a couple of years, it may swing back the other way. In the interim, there is a fantastic opportunity for someone to win the neglected customers through superior service. Whoever brands their bank, "For the People, by the People", emphasizing that they look after the experience of their customers first, will win the hearts of those customers. If they offer good financial products, they will win their minds as well.

  • Fernando Cardoza

    IMHO, our present managerial capitalism system has produced the present frenzied drive towards transactional efficiency & higher stock prices at any cost (Read: "The Support Economy" (TSE), Zuboff/Maxmin).

    This behavior cannot continue. It can change when: corporations 'awaken' from their Wall Street stupor and begin to look for better ways to serve their customers that are sustainable and socially responsible; OR (and more immediately likely) customers begin to demand DEEP SUPPORT (over low prices), and become concerned about the methods of production of goods/services. Consumers do so by voting with their wallets for corporations that reflect their own personal values about sustainability and social responsibility, on a par with share prices/profits, putting greed in check.

    Anyway, a new economic mindset is required on both sides. Enlightened corporate leaders and consumer champions/advocates need to emerge and be seen/heard. Efficient 'federations of deep support' free agents need to be enabled (a concept from TSE).

    In this light, outsourcing (or buying services from outside sources) may still be required but not at the expense of low quality, poor support, nor in a way that clashes with our values, insults our intelligence, disrupts social structures or disregards the environment.

    The professions of the future? Free agents for deep support in (pick your industry).

  • Rob

    With more jobs going overseas, the United States will end up with jobs that are more customer service-oriented than any other -oriented types. That'll mean more service employees serving customers or clients than helping, working with or working for customers/clients. It's important to consider other maintenance-oriented jobs in case of self-service or automaton machines keep breaking down or need of updates/repairs. People can abuse or misuse those machines on a hourly basis. Meanwhile, watch Will Smith's new movie, "I, Robot" comes out next week and you all are going to see a sneak preview from that movie of what our real future is going to be like: robots serving customers/clients while the rest of us sit back being complacent, lazy and playful. Unless some would like to be "robot-busters". We have to stop assuming that better technologies will make everything better. In truth, it doesn't. People need to be useful in any job beside computer techologies or robotics.