In 2010, the American television network NBC announced it would air a comedy called "Outsourced." The show was set in a call center in India that handles customer service inquiries for an American company that makes quirky novelty items, like wallets made of bacon.
The show itself lasted only one season, but anyone who has called a customer support hotline and spoken to someone with a foreign accent will be able to relate to the scenario conjured by the show's producers. To be sure, the "Outsourced" writers were playing stereotypes for laughs, but for many, outsourcing isn't funny at all -- it's part of doing business.
Those working in call centers hold just one of many types of jobs that companies of all sizes outsource these days. And jobs don't only go to places like Mumbai or Manila. Indeed, outsourcing -- which is essentially subcontracting to an outside company or person -- is also known as offshoring when it's done internationally. That's what happened in "Outsourced," when an American company hired employees in India to do the work.
Typically, companies that outsource jobs do so to save money and become more competitive and profitable. Increasingly, however, companies are motivated by the expertise and skill they can leverage from external sources without having to hire a lot of new employees.
We've chosen 10 jobs that are frequently outsourced, listed in no particular order. Read on to see how, depending on the job, outsourcing can benefit a company -- or hold it back.
Years ago, reporters and editors at The Los Angeles Times jokingly referred to their newspaper as "the velvet coffin" because of its reputation for giving its workers lifetime job security and high wages [source: McLellan]. Due to declining advertising revenue and increased competition from the Web, those days are long gone in Los Angeles, and at newspapers generally, where staffs have been slashed along with salaries. Today, newspapers and Web sites (including this one) rely heavily on freelancers to produce content. It's not just journalism that depends on outsourcing to produce the words that appear on pages and screens: Large corporations, universities, book publishers and movie studios all rely on freelance writers to produce everything from ghostwritten or original books, blogs, press releases, annual reports and screenplays.
While these outsourced positions provide information and entertainment, on the next page we'll meet people who make sure the trains run on time.
Imagine this dilemma, a common one for ambitious entrepreneurs in the early days of launching a company: Eager to save costs, they work out of a room in their home. Needing to focus their energy on developing a groundbreaking new product or service, they let phone calls go to voice mail and only check e-mail at the end of the day, when they very well might be too tired to respond. This sort of single-minded focus, while admirable, risks branding any new venture as unprofessional. Which is one reason so many entrepreneurs and small businesses these days outsource administrative duties -- like handling phone calls, e-mails and scheduling -- to personal assistants who may work far from their home base. This allows small companies to focus all of their resources on building their business without the cost of hiring a full-time assistant and without the risk of appearing amateurish.
Making a good impression is vital for any size company, but read on to find out how outsourcing can help a business avoid an audit.
At the end of 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, released a report detailing what non-manufacturing jobs were the most susceptible to being sent offshore. The authors pointed specifically to occupations that didn't require face-to-face interaction (like a barber) or intimate knowledge of cultural tastes (like marketing). Included in the top 10 most offshorable occupations was tax preparer, a job that depends on two things: financial information from a client and knowledge of tax laws. In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service made it a requirement for tax preparation companies to let their customers know when a return was being completed overseas. No such disclosure is needed when an American company outsources a tax return to be completed by another U.S. firm -- something that happened an estimated 240,000 times in 2008. That number is expected to grow in subsequent years because of the cost savings involved [source: Paskin].
If numbers and taxes aren't your thing, read on to discover what Web programmers and designers have in common with strawberry pickers.
Web Programmers and Designers
It should come as no surprise, then, that there are companies that handle the entire process of building and maintaining sites -- information architects, designers, programmers and writers.
Sometimes, companies have a difficult time finding their voice. And that's why they turn to the people we'll talk about on the next page.
The best laid plans often need someone to draw them up so they can be put into action, and that's exactly what drafters do. Architects, scientists and engineers all need the help of professional drafters, who draw up detailed plans for projects using specifications and sketches of the original idea. But it's a different type of job than a graphic designer does. Drafters use their knowledge of manufacturing and engineering, as well as research on the specifics of a particular project, to add the fine details needed to take it from concept to reality [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. It's an important job, but one that's often outsourced.
Speaking of taking care of the details, it's necessary to help manage the logistics of the people who work at a business. Follow the link to the next page to see a possibly surprisingly popular job to outsource.
For anyone who considers outsourcing to be the exclusive tool of large corporations, consider how difficult and expensive it would be for a small company -- particularly if it's growing quickly -- to handle hiring and firing, payroll, benefits packages and all the other tasks that come with human resources. Throw in the fact that start-ups and early-stage companies need to have all of their best minds focused on the core function of the business, and it's understandable why many opt to outsource human resources to third-party companies that have the technology and expertise to manage these important functions.
Visit the next page to see why the Kevin James comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" featured one of the more popular jobs to outsource.
The image of the rotund security guard Paul Blart, played by comedian Kevin James, earnestly patrolling a darkened shopping mall on a Segway is easy to laugh at -- and judging by the success of the movie, plenty of people did. It's a fictionalized example of one of the more routinely outsourced jobs. Indeed, retailers, universities, banks and even wealthy people frequently hire private security firms to protect persons and property, which they can do at reduced expense and liability than if they added full-time guards to the staff. More controversially, private security firms also provide protection to U.S. diplomats and foreign leaders, which led to uproar and debate in Iraq in 2007 when guards from the company Blackwater were involved in an incident in which Iraqi civilians were killed.
Next, we'll return to the call centers of India and the Philippines to see why they might not always be such a good idea.
The comedic logic behind setting a TV sitcom -- as NBC did with "Outsourced" -- in a call center in India, where the locals work under the supervision of an American boss, is obvious. Cultural misunderstandings and differences are fodder for conflict and laughs. The business logic of non-fictional companies offshoring customer service call centers to distant shores is also obvious, given that labor costs can be so much lower in developing nations. But while the profit motive can be irresistible to American companies, it comes at a risk. Communication difficulties leave customers angry and may tarnish the reputation of a business. The potential troubles that come with offshoring call centers may also help explain why more companies are bringing them back to the United States.
Keep reading to find out why your cough or headache could be generating an outsourced job.
If you're sitting in an office looking your doctor in the eye, you can feel quite confident that his or her job has not been outsourced. What happens when you leave the office, however, could be quite another matter. Maybe you had an X-ray or an MRI taken, or maybe your doctor said a few words into a recorder about your ailments and needs to get them transcribed and placed into your medical record. Increasingly, those tasks are being outsourced as a way to reduce costs. While financial savings has prompted this growth, issues around patient confidentiality and the potential for mistakes has led to some questions about the practice.
Finally, we'll take a look at one of the most popular jobs to offshore and gaze into its uncertain future.
At the very top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of offshorable occupations in the United States is that of computer programmer [source: Moncarz, Wolf and Wright]. With so many stories over the past 15 years about computer programmers, software developers, IT analysts and other professionals in Bangalore and Mumbai, this probably isn't a big surprise. In fact, companies like Microsoft have garnered headlines by opening big operations in India in order to utilize the highly skilled and relatively low-cost labor force there. But rising wages in India and the advent of cloud computing has some observers wondering if this trend will reverse. With so many reasons to share the workload with others, however, it seems certain that outsourcing of all types will continue.
Learn more about businesses and the way they handle their employees by visiting the links on the next page..
HowStuffWorks explains what Small Business Saturday is and whether it really helps small businesses.
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- Laszewski, Alicia. VP of marketing, C3 CustomerContactChannels. Personal correspondence. Sept. 15, 2010.
- McLellan, Michelle. "Escaping the velvet coffin." News Leadership 3.0. Knight Digital Media Center. Sept. 18, 2008. (Sept. 26, 2011) http://www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org/leadership_blog/comments/escaping_the_velvet_coffin/
- Miller, Katie. President, Assistant Match. Personal correspondence. Sept. 14 and 15, 2010.
- Mittal, Nikunj. CEO, Rent A Smile. Personal correspondence. Sept. 14, 2010.
- Moncarz, Roger J., Wolf, Michael G., and Wright, Benjamin. "Service-providing occupations, offshoring, and the labor market." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. December 2008. (Sept. 26, 2011) http://bls.gov/opub/mlr/2008/12/art4full.pdf
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- Pattisonn, Wallis. Author. Personal correspondence. Sept. 15, 2010.
- Quintana, Bert. President and COO, Sitel Corporation. Personal correspondence. Sept. 14, 2010.
- Stein, Rob. "Hospital Services Performed Overseas." The Washington Post. April 24, 2005. (Sept. 26, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12392-2005Apr23.html
- Swart, Gary. CEO of oDesk.com. Personal correspondence. Sept. 14, 2010.
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- Thompson, Derek. "11 Jobs Most Likely to Be Outsourced." The Atlantic." June 20, 2010. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/06/11-jobs-most-likely-to-be-outsourced/58388/
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Drafters." Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Department of Labor.
- Weinstein, Bruce. "The Ethics of Outsourcing Customer Service." Business Week. Sept. 27, 2007. (Sept. 26, 2011) http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2007/ca20070927_836850.htm