Offshoring, outsourcing and globalization

June 26, 2009

A week or so ago someone on one of my STC technical writing email discussion lists posted this:

I hear that tech writing pundits and trend watchers are predicting the eventual demise of the tech comms field due to globalization. A few good years left then – kaput. We will all be out of business due to competition from offshore. Best to move into a line of work that can produce a profit for employers (unlike tech comm) AND requires an onshore presence, i.e., can’t be done remotely from thousands of miles away.

After I’d settled down a bit (!), I responded as follows:

As an international member of STC, I won’t write what I felt when I read this, so here’s the polite version:

  • What do you class as ‘offshore’? Everybody lives somewhere and any country/continent where they don’t live can be classed as offshore — from their perspective.
  • If ‘onshore’ means the US or perhaps North America (US + Canada), then you have forgotten that STC is an international organisation. Therefore many members do NOT live in the US/Canada. With attitudes like those you expressed, it’s no surprise that many former international members of STC left the organisation, and continue to leave it.
  • My ‘onshore’ is Australia. If I send work to the US (as I have done several times), then that’s ‘offshore’ for me. A US citizen gets the work and gets paid. What’s wrong with that? If you see nothing wrong with that, then why do you think it’s wrong when it’s the other way round? (and yes, I’ve done work for companies in the US and Israel) Should I, as an Australian, only ever send work to other Australians? Should I assume that someone from outside Australia can’t do the work? (Now substitute another country’s name in the last two questions and see if you get the same answers!)
  • If you think it’s OK for me (as an Australian) to do work for US companies, then which countries are you referring to when you talk about ‘competition from offshore’? Are some countries ‘better’ than others? Are some countries acceptable, but others not? Which countries? Why?
  • ‘Thousands of miles away’ can mean within country. The US is a vast place, as is Canada, Australia, etc. I work remotely with ALL my clients, whether in my home state (3 hours to my capital city), within my own country (min. 3 hour flight to my nearest state), or on the other side of the world. I am always at least hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from my clients. It has not been an issue.

A blog post earlier this week from Your Writing Dept in Sacramento — titled Outsourcing vs. offshoring, and how U.S.-based technical writers can stay competitive — adds a slightly different perspective, as well as explaining very well the differences between outsourcing (which is what I do all the time) and offshoring (which is what I do some of the time).

My only beef with this well-written article from Your Writing Dept was the title — despite the reasoned arguments, the good advice, and the excellent final paragraph, the title had a very US-centric feel to it. Which I guess is OK as the writer is based in the US ;-)

One comment

  1. I appreciate your review of my Outsourcing vs. Offshoring post. Yes, it was written from a U.S. perspective, but I have both lived and worked overseas (a country other than the U.S.), as well as worked on projects originating from outside the U.S. So I understand that in a global economy, work goes back and forth for various reasons.

    This post was the result of me reading a LinkedIn posting from a displaced technical writer who started playing the blame game for why she could not find a new writing job. As I pointed out in my post, she went down the wrong path of blaming outsourcing and offshoring as the reason for the lack of available jobs in her area.

    So, just for the record, I would like to stress that I am not opposed to offshoring, whether it’s an Australian working for a U.S.-based firm, or an Indian writer working for a U.S.-based firm, or a U.S.-based writer working for a Chinese firm (which I have done). My major concern is when a company selects a lower quality writer solely because they need to cut costs.

    Best regards,

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