I’ve come to realize that I’m an outlier in terms of job stability. In my 28-year career I’ve had only three jobs: 11 years with Arthur Andersen, 11 years with Oracle, and seven years with my current company. This seems quite normal to me. My father also had three jobs in his whole career, including 20 years with Sears. My grandfather retired after 40 odd years for Nashua Corporation, a cardboard and paper manufacturer in New Hampshire. Commit your career to your company and it’ll take care of you for life. Right?
Not even close. Offshoring has changed all that, as companies find ways to do more with less.
An old friend of mine just sent me one of those electronic contact updates that are so frequent these days. Ingrid had been an Oracle DBA for many years; she did well and progressed to a key management role at a big bank. She thought her job was secure. But that turned out to be an illusion. Six months ago, she lost her job to a large Indian offshoring contract.
Today, it’s common for companies to move job functions offshore wherever possible to reduce the once-high cost of supporting systems like Oracle and SAP. Typically, employees are deployed to leverage their skills on higher-priority projects, but in Ingrid’s case, her DBA skills were no longer as valuable as she thought. Severance check in hand, she had to turn elsewhere.
The U.S. economy is an amazing engine of job destruction -- and fortunately, an even more productive engine of job creation.
I’m not sure how they track these numbers, but for the 10-year period between 1993 and 2002 the U.S. economy created 318 million new jobs and destroyed 300 million of them, for a net gain of 18 million jobs. Those numbers are hard to get your mind around. Today, we have about 140 million total jobs in the whole economy. That means we create and destroy over 20 percent of our jobs every year and replace all our jobs every five years. So much for job security.
In this new economy, very little real job security exists. That makes sense when I hear of the huge structural problems in the airline industry with all its layoffs and contract renegotiations. And the Internet really is changing everything, isn’t it? No job is secure anymore.
As it happens, Ingrid landed on her feet. Her combination of deep Oracle knowledge and the ability to lead a team snagged her a role as a business analyst on a long-term implementation project with an Oracle customer in Atlanta. While the contract comes without job security, Ingrid should be able to parlay that experience into the next consulting gig if this one goes well.
The lesson is clear: Refocus the concept of loyalty inward. Take care of your career first. Don’t be complacent; keep your skills and résumé fresh, and keep one eye on the job market. Don’t pass on interesting opportunities; continuously weigh the opportunity costs of staying where you are. Keep an eye on the hot trends and consider how you fit into them. Keep your survival instincts well-honed. And be prepared to strike out on your own, as millions of professionals have learned the hard way since the downturn.