Outsourcing, Technology Cut Need for Rote Workers;

Brainpower is in Demand

Wall Street Journal 4/2/04 - condensed article


Jobs Won't Dry Up, but the Wage Gap May Grow

Much of the American anxiety about outsourcing to India and China can be boiled down to this simple question: Will there be good jobs left for our kids?

It's easy to see why there is so much concern. Tens of millions of increasingly skilled Chinese and Indian workers are joining the global economy at a moment when technology can dispatch white-collar work overseas almost instantly - from call centers to sophisticated design projects, the very jobs the discouraged factory workers hoped their children would get.

Jobs that can be reduced to a series of rules are likely to go - either to workers abroad or to computers. The jobs that stay in the U.S. or that are newly created in the decade ahead are likely to demand the more complex skill of recognizing patterns or require human contact.

Bound to Disappear

"If you can describe a job precisely, or write rules for doing it, it is unlikely to survive. Either we'll program a computer to do it, or we'll teach a foreigner to do it," says Frank Levy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist.

Two different kinds of jobs are likely to flourish amid outsourcing and computerization. One sort requires physical contact - nursing home aides, janitors, gardeners, dentists. Foreign-born workers may do them. but they'll have to come to the U.S.

The other sort of jobs destined to remain here are high-end jobs. Some require exchanging information in ways that email and teleconferencing don't handle well. Think about teaching first grade or selling a mansion to a multimillionaire or conceiving new forms of software. Others demand such intimate knowledge of the U,S, that it's hard to see foreigners doing them from afar. Think about marketing to American teenagers or lobbying Congress.

Wider Gap

One unpleasant possibility, acknowledged even by those firmly in the trade-is-good camp, is that jobs will proliferate at both ends of the barbell - and fewer in the middle. Without better elementary and high schools, wider access to college and more training of mature workers, the gap between those with well-paying and poorly paid jobs is certain to grow.

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