If you’re a Baby Boomer like I am, you probably get at least one e-mail a week from someone who wants to remind you of how great it was in the “good old days” of 5-cent cokes, 29-cent gasoline and safe neighborhoods in which to frolic.
Ah yes, those were halcyon days, but like all good things, they have come to an end, even in the most stable of industries–insurance.
As technology has become increasingly critical to our business, our happy and sleepy industry has been unceremoniously booted out of the Land of Oz. With a splash of cold water to the face, insurance has awakened to find itself not in Auntie Em’s cozy bedroom, but instead adrift on the often stormy seas of the technology industry.
Gone are the days when insurance was a technology fiefdom reserved exclusively for those few software vendors who chose to specialize in our mind-numbingly bland and often arcane business.
One has only to consider the increasing activity in the insurance space of high-profile software makers like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP to realize that mainstream software has entered our industry in a major way.
As a result, where we were once insulated from the vicissitudes of the often chaotic software market, we now find ourselves very much concerned with what the big players are doing.
That brings me to a recent article in Computerworld that quotes a software industry group representative as saying that immigration reform will be required in order for the industry to continue its strong economic performance in the United States.
According to a spokesperson for the Software & Information Industry Association, not being able to add more workers from outside our borders as needed creates an incentive for the industry to establish facilities outside the U.S.
The obvious inference is that unless we bring in more workers from abroad to populate software companies here, the companies will simply move their operations offshore–leaving more American workers searching for jobs.
That seems to make sense, but when you think about it, this entire line of reasoning is based on a false premise–that skilled and talented workers cannot be found and/or developed here in the U.S. Does anyone really believe that American workers cannot handle the jobs that need to be done? Absolutely not! Does anyone seriously think that American schools and companies are incapable of training people to do these jobs? I have never heard anyone say so.
No. What is really at issue here begins and ends with the almighty dollar (which isn’t all that mighty these days). The SIIA says the average annual wage in the software industry in 2006 was $75,400, apparently significantly above the average wage for all workers in the private sector.
That sounds fine, but if we bring in someone from overseas, they might be willing to work for considerably less than an American worker would want. So there’s a savings built in for American software makers.
And if those foreign workers get wise and demand equal treatment, the companies can always pull up stakes and move abroad to find cheaper labor.
It’s true that in recent years, U.S. college graduates have not been gravitating to computer science, but that shouldn’t stop the technology industry from offering incentives for America’s brightest to enter the field. Especially in specialized areas of technology like insurance and financial services, you would think that American companies would want to recruit and train young people who could flourish in the U.S. software industry and other technology arenas.
The problem is that it’s just too easy–and much less expensive–for software vendors to hire foreign workers or to move the entire operation offshore to gain even more financial leverage. That leaves U.S. workers who want to be part of the software industry out in the cold. In these times of looming recession, however, can we afford to be so greedy that we shove our own workers aside in the name of higher profits for the corporation?
Let’s offer incentives to our own students and train more of them for roles in the software and technology industry. We need to take care of business inside our own borders before we worry about the global economy.
The alternative? Click the heels of your ruby slippers together three times and keep repeating: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”