Progressing from the land to the office isn’t always all it’s cracked up to
be, as Vance Kearney discovers
I can’t say that I am ageing well, with four kids, one close to graduating
in computer science just as the boom becomes a bust – and I’m thinking about
bouncing grandchildren on my knees.
My grandfather worked on the land as a tied agricultural labourer and my dad
was a toolmaker. The few people left who know what that is will tell you it is
the elite of the engineering craft trades. Here I am now, head of HR for a
successful global multinational in Europe. It seems the family has progressed
well from the land to the office, from poverty to relative riches. Yes, life
and Larry Ellison have been good to me.
Can you remember the bad old days when we were all in coal mining,
shipbuilding, steel production and manufacturing? That was dirty old work,
wasn’t it? Luckily that all went to the Far East. The West was too expensive.
Those businesses couldn’t support our economic and social needs, and today we
are all far happier as knowledge workers with our service industries,
air-conditioned offices and Starbucks.
We never had it so good, what with full employment, generous state pensions
and welfare states and good health and education services, despite what the
papers say. Until now, that is, when it all became too darned hard.
Hands up all employers that like employing people in Europe – and don’t tell
me you like 50 per cent payroll taxes, and 30 months pay to lay people off,
every decision challenged in a workers’ court or a workers’ council. What are
you, masochists? I know it keeps us HR types busy, but get real – this is utter
But fear not, it’s going to get easier. Not because governments will wise up
(no-one gets elected by facing hard facts) but because all the jobs are going
away. Don’t you believe me? Where’s the fastest growing centre for shared
services and back-office functions (such as HR and finance)? It is Bangalore.
What’s the predicted global market for back-office outsourcing? $200bn in five
years. Where can you deliver most of the functions we excel at in Europe and
the west: financial services, travel and distribution, publishing, technology
and media? India again. An almost limitless supply (by European standards) of
highly educated talent just itching to take over the work we do best.
There are as many software developers in Hyderabad as there are in Europe.
We lost manufacturing and the service sector will go the same way as telecoms
and the internet make physical locations irrelevant. Read the article Back
Office to the World Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai in The Economist, 3 May, if you
think I have a screw loose.
So, as Europe’s social agenda moves ahead on a wave of popular electoral
support, while the governments of Europe promise pensions they can’t pay for
and employment rights that no one can afford, I have some advice: invest that
bulging severance cheque wisely; your grandchildren may have to live on it.
The Economist article is available to subscribers at http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=610986
Vance Kearney is vice-president of HR for Oracle-Europe, Middle East and
Africa. However, the views represented here are solely his own