There's little question that outsourcing has had a significant impact on the U.S. economy. Outsourcing customer service and support jobs to countries like India has become so common that it's become an advertising campaign topic for companies that want to stand out for their better (and presumably not outsourced) services. However, with companies seeing savings of 50% or more for outsourced positions, it's clearly tempting for those companies under never-ending pressure to either match low-price competitors or shore up their own operating margins.
Although outsourcing is supposed to refer to hiring an outside company for tasks previously handled in-house (letting another company handle IT or customer help lines, for instance), that's not always how the term is used. Some also try to stretch the term to include companies that shut down domestic plants in favor of sourcing products from cheaper foreign suppliers or opening their own factories overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs.
However it's defined, outsourcing has an impact on American jobs and workers, though curiously a hard-to-define impact. Estimates of net jobs lost to outsourcing range from the hundreds of thousands to the millions, but even aggressive assumptions seem to suggest that it's less than 2% of the U.S. workforce.
That said, just because the numbers may not be intimidating en masse, that doesn't mean that workers can afford to ignore the risks. It makes sense for workers to gravitate towards those jobs that cannot be outsourced, and what follows is a list of some of the principal jobs that cannot be outsourced or relocated offshore.
Although telemedicine can save lives for people in remote and hard-to-reach areas, nobody has ever seriously suggested that there's a substitute for having real-life physicians, nurses and surgeons nearby. Doctors need to see their patients to properly evaluate them, and many therapies and procedures require a literal hands-on presence. Moreover, as the population ages, job growth across the sector is expected to be well above the average through 2020.
Becoming a doctor or surgeon requires four years of expensive post-baccalaureate education, as well as extensive training and experience. In exchange, doctors are generally able to find work almost anywhere they wish, with significantly above-average pay prospects (over $166,000 for the median). Other healthcare positions, such as a nurse or physician's assistant, require substantially less (and less-expensive) education and also offer strong employment prospects, but with lower compensation (median pay of about $40,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
The running joke about lawyers is that everybody hates them until they need one. Be that as it may, legal services are another skilled trade that is difficult to outsource. While large corporations will outsource some routine legal work and individuals can meet some of their needs for documents like wills through online businesses, anyone who is facing a trial (beyond the level of small claims) will need an in-person attorney.
Attorneys generally have to go to law school, an expensive three-year program that follows a regular undergraduate program. Becoming an attorney isn't a golden ticket as some believe, but lawyers can generally find work almost anywhere in the country, have average job growth expectations and can look for median pay above $110,000 (though many attorneys earn much less than this).
The U.S. may import more food than ever before, but ordering takeout from India or China is not really a viable option. Couple that with a growing desire on the part of Americans to eat out, and that leads to a pretty healthy (and safe) job outlook for chefs, cooks and servers. Keep in mind that "safe" is relative. Culinary services are notorious for high employee turnover rates and above-average business failure rates, but these jobs cannot be outsourced outside the country.
The requirements to enter this field largely depend upon the level at which the worker is looking to work. Top-end restaurants typically require would-be chefs to have graduated from accredited culinary programs and for servers to have extensive experience in their field. However, humbler restaurants and most national chains require minimal experience or qualifications (not even a high school diploma in many cases). Employment prospects tend to vary with the economic health of the area, but the overall expectation is that job growth here will lag the broader economy. Pay ranges from less than $20,000 for servers and prep cooks to over $40,000 for head chefs.
Anybody who has had to deal with a broken appliance by boxing it up and shipping it out and then waiting for weeks to get it back, will appreciate that many types of repair and maintenance jobs cannot be outsourced. If sending a blender to Mexico for repairs is well-nigh ridiculous, it's completely impractical when it comes to cars and impossible when it comes to houses. As such, those who can repair passenger or commercial vehicles and those who can do plumbing, electrical work or carpentry will find that their jobs cannot be readily outsourced.
The BLS estimates average growth prospects for employment in these categories through 2020, with median pay ranging from $32,000 for small engine repairmen to $41,000 for diesel mechanics to $53,000 for aviation mechanics. While these jobs often technically require only a high school diploma, it often helps a candidate's prospects to have graduated from an accredited technical education program ("trade school" or "vocational school").
It is possible to learn through programs offered online, via CD or through other detached means, but there are some meaningful drawbacks to these approaches. These drawbacks are such that it is improbable that "distance learning" will ever replace in-room teachers for the large majority of elementary, high school or college education.
The educational requirements for work in teaching vary greatly with the targeted job. Teachers' aide positions often require only a high school diploma, while teaching at a university often requires a PhD in the relevant field. Job growth across the educational spectrum is widely expected to be in line with the broader average (though some segments like high school education have below-average prospects). Average pay ranges from $23,000 for teacher assistants to $52,000 for middle school teachers to $62,000 for postsecondary teachers.
The Bottom Line
With an increase in outsourcing occurring in the developed world, you might do well to get involved in a job or industry that will never be sent to another country for a cheaper cost. Any of the aforementioned careers offer work in a stable industry.
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