What is your Added Value?

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Before I get into today’s topic I thought I’d mention why I haven’t posted as often lately. Since last September I have been spending a lot of time on the road; Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma, Philadelphia and Raleigh are just a few of the places I’ve been teaching classes in. I have also spent 4 weeks in Evansville, Indiana on a programming and integration project. So when it came time to take a break and relax, what did I do? Went on another trip of course, this one with my wife. We traveled around Florida, also taking a trip to the Bahamas on “The Rock Boat”, seeing some excellent bands and getting way too much sun. While on the boat I didn’t have my computer, so I didn’t write a post last weekend.

I’m still traveling over the next couple of weeks, to Boston and Atlanta (again, teaching classes), but this time I have picked up a cool little tablet that allows me to travel a little lighter and work on stuff on the plane. I hope to write some posts over the next couple of weeks on specific brands of PLCs.

This week I’d like to share a bit from a book I’ve been reading. It is called “The World Is Flat, a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas L. Friedman. Essentially it mostly discusses the economics of a changing world, but it also describes some of the challenges that businesses and individuals will have to face from worldwide competition.

An important point that is emphasized in the book is that as technology improves, many jobs that used to be the domain of people in developed countries can now be done from anywhere. The world has become increasingly wired and automated, and education on a wide variety of topics is now essentially free, you just have to be able to find it. As the workforce “flattens” across the globe, jobs in the US and Europe that were thought to be un-exportable are now increasingly moving to less expensive countries.

The book also asks us to re-examine our job functions to evaluate what value we as individuals bring to the workforce. For many years it was possible to sort of fade into the background in a large organization. In these days of increased global completion companies are looking for ways to cut their budgets. One way is to eliminate positions completely, making organizations leaner. Another is to outsource the job to another country where people will perform the same function for less than half of what someone in a more developed country requires.

This begs the question: what value do you provide to your organization? Are you easily replaced… possibly by outsourcing your function to a company located in another country? Are you a beneficiary of some of these outsourced jobs? A great case in point is call centers. While in college a friend of mine was working his way through engineering school by answering phones at a hotel reservation center. As far as I know that job doesn’t even exist in the US anymore, most of it has moved to India. People there are trained in customer service and many even sound more American than some Americans. People here can be upset about it all they want, but those types of jobs are probably never coming back.

India also has a tremendous number of skilled software engineers. They can be hired at a fraction of what a typical engineer in the US can, and in this era of increased connectivity most of the work can be done there. Of course China has managed to become one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world in less than twenty years.

All of this places people in developed countries in direct competition with workers from emerging countries. While many people call for more protectionist policies to give people a “fair” shot, reality is that the best thing a worker can do is make themselves indispensable to their company. If your job is one that can easily be outsourced, perhaps it is time to find a different career. We can all be thought of as our own small company that provides some service to the world at large. If so what is the quality and uniqueness of that service? What is your “Added Value”?

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