Outsource-Proof Your Job

Somewhere between 400,000 (according to Forbes, 4/12/04) and 3.3 million (according to Forrester Research, 2003) jobs have moved from the United States to other countries over the past few years, and it is likely that more will leave despite the possibility of legislation to slow the trend down. Many more millions of jobs have been automated and are now done by computers. What is less often discussed is what kind of jobs are being automated and outsourced. Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, authors of a recently published book entitled The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Russell Sage Foundation, 2004) provide some insight. In 1964, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution sent a memo to President Lyndon Johnson warning that computers would soon create widespread unemployment in the United States. The memo said that computers heralded a new era that would boost productivity to such levels that people would become less and less important to the economy. In some ways they were correct. It’s true that thousands and thousands of jobs have been taken over by computers, but each of these jobs has had similar characteristics: they each relied on a carefully articulated set of rules that governed what was done and how decisions were made. Loan officers used a formula to determine eligibility for loans; certain financial traders relied on standardized practices that needed little judgment. The more a task can be described in step-by-step rules, the more likely it is to be completely replaced by a computer. As tasks move toward recognizing patterns that may vary and that each have different outcomes, computers begin to have more difficulty in completely taking over the decision making, although they can assist us by providing information we might not be able to see ourselves. Computers have affected millions of us by replacing the tasks we used to do completely or by augmenting and assisting us in doing them. In recruiting, it is obvious that over the next few years computers will replace or augment many of the things we currently do. Computers can already examine resumes for missing information, guide a candidate through the application process, schedule interviews, and recommend salary ranges. They augment the screening and assessment process and may, perhaps, become sophisticated enough to completely replace us in selecting people for certain kinds and levels of positions. Yet there are jobs and tasks that remain outside the capability of computers. According to the authors of The New Division of Labor, there are two skill sets that computers will not be able to take over for a very long time, if ever. These skills are expert thinking and complex communications. I believe that recruiting is built on both of these and the recruiters that will thrive in the future are those who can let the rules-based and routine work go to the computers and focus on becoming talent experts and communication gurus. For recruiters to become “outsource proof” and secure in their ability to provide quality service, they need to understand and apply expert thinking and become masters of communication. Expert Thinking Expert thinking takes place when a person has a broad knowledge of an area or field, a large amount of relevant information about that area, and the ability to recognize patterns and relationships that allow him or her to generalize from a specific instance to an entire class of problems. Expert thinking also involved applying analogies from problems they know about to those they do not. For recruiting, expert thinking can only happen when recruiters have a broad knowledge of labor and talent marketplaces ó internal as well as external ó and can use that knowledge to develop talent pipelines, scenarios, and strategies for ensuring a supply of relevant talent. Expert-thinking recruiters will need to come up with creative techniques for ensuring the talent supply and for building a supply when there is a shortage. They will need to learn how shortages have been overcome from other disciplines. They will need to be outward looking, aware, able to anticipate needs, and ready with possible solutions. Complex Communications The authors point out that the ability to communicate effectively requires several separate abilities. The first of these is the ability to build understanding; the second is to gain trust and the third is to negotiate outcomes. Recruiters need these skills in maximum doses. Most of the complaints I hear from recruiters can be identified as problems in communication. For example, poor communication is evident when your management team does not appreciate the kind of talent marketplace you function in or when a hiring manager makes a truly unreasonable request. If we were masters at communication, these would not be problems. We need to be able to teach and explain, provide factual and quantitative data, and build strong business cases for sourcing the right talent. But we also need to gain the trust of management and candidates. This means that recruiters have to be able to treat different managers and candidates in ways that are supportive and trust building, while at the same time honest and effective. I often call this skill the ability to build your own “personal equity” and develop a bond with managers that is synonymous with good results. None of these skills are really effective if we cannot negotiate results that are win-win for all parties. The recruiter who can help people find their common ground in an argument or discussion and then leverage that to achieve a solution that everybody is happy with will be the most successful. Each of these skills ó the ability to apply expert knowledge and the ability to communicate in a sophisticated and effective manner ó are how you will keep your job in a world of outsourcing, and even thrive.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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1 Comment on “Outsource-Proof Your Job

  1. Great article, Kevin. To your list I would add ‘creativity.’ Recent articles in CareerJournal (and elsewhere) have discussed that companies are interested in candidates with liberal arts degrees – because of their creative thinking skills. Wasn’t long ago that liberal arts majors were laughed at.

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