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Reflecting on outsourcing

Posted on: January 11, 2014

I attended an event recently where a speaker tried to impress upon the audience how much the world was changing. One of the examples was how modern countries outsource low level work to other countries.

Such work is typically mundane or repetitive, and has relatively low cognitive demands. Such work is outsourced also because it is not popular with citizens of the more modern country.

I think we outsource a fair bit of complex work too.

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Many working parents resort to hiring domestic helpers for child-rearing and elderly care. In Singapore, these domestic helpers come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar (amongst others).

I would not consider what domestic helpers do to be simple. They have very heavy demands because parents offload some parenting responsibilities to their helpers. Often this creates such a dependency that the option to outsource becomes a norm instead.

I am not against outsourcing. I am wary of not considering the long term consequences of unthinking behaviour.

Often a move like outsourcing is a knee-jerk or urgent response to a need. The needs become wants. The wants become expectations. The expectations become culture. And then it is hard to change.

In a recent dialogue that I had with visitors to CeL, I described how we outsource some work like mobile app creation and ICT skills-based workshops to interns and vendors respectively.

But unlike how the outsourcing of parenting creates a dependency or absolves the parent of parenting, our outsourcing efforts allow us to be better at our core work, offer a wide variety of services, and improve in the areas we are weak in. I am confident that should circumstances change so much so that we have to stop outsourcing, we will be the better for it, not worse.

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