Indian, American and East European outsourcers are increasingly evident in the UK and among many British IT professionals there is a fear of their jobs being ‘off-shored’.
But rather than fear this process or simply wait for it to happen, should IT professionals actively consider working directly for an offshore outsourcer?
For starters, if you are an IT consultant, or an IT manager dealing with multiple UK-based partners, you are likely to have valuable in-country expertise and contacts to offer an outsourcing services provider.
The big outsourcers are currently increasing their onshore recruitment and looking for British talent, particularly for consulting and customer-facing roles, that can help drive business, said Anthony Miller, managing partner at analyst firm TechMarketView.
“The reason the outsourcers, specifically the Indian ones, are recruiting in-country is that’s where they need the skills. They don’t have the time or the luxury to train consultants up. They want ones who are ready to run,” he explained.
Miller added that there is a finite pool of good British IT consultants, who they have gained their experience over many years and have a full contacts book, and these are valuable recruits for offshore outsourcers. In addition, having good consultants onboard enables them to “move up the value chain”.
This desire to be viewed as global IT services players, rather than just offshore outsourcers, is also a promising sign for UK IT professionals looking to move into the outsourcing industry.
The large Indian IT outsourcing firms in particular are continuing to build up their global brand recognition, with many ranking higher than ever before in the European IT services charts, according to Marianne Kolding, associate vice president of IDC's European Services Group.
IDC's 2009 top 50 global IT services firms operating in Western Europe featured several Indian outsourcers with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) ranking the highest at number 24, (or 22 excluding its business process outsourcing operations).
Wipro ranked at 28, Infosys at 31, HCL Technologies at 46 and Mahindra Satyam at 50.
Kolding said that these companies altered their recruitment strategy two or three years ago specifically to employ more indigenous workers in-country.
When the outsourcing phenomenon took off about eight to 10 years ago, they were focused on shipping in the expertise they needed from India to the UK, rotating them after 12 to 18 months to bring in the next batch of staff, said Kolding. “But it became clear that this wasn't a sustainable long term strategy.”
Frustrated British hires started to see a glass ceiling, and over the last few years, these companies built up their in-country senior management with British recruits, said Kolding.
Another recruitment model used, for example, by Indian outsourcing firm Infosys, was to recruit British university graduates and train them in India for entry-level software engineering jobs, before returning them to the UK. This enabled them to mould the graduates for the future, imbuing them with the culture of the company and its business processes.
In summer 2007, Infosys took its first group of 25 graduates to Mysore, India, for six months of software engineering and hands-on training before working for the company’s UK operations.
The recruits came from Universities including Cambridge, Bath, Nottingham, Surrey and UCL. However, this proved to be an expensive model, said Kolding. It is unclear whether Infosys continued the initiative, and the firm was unavailable for comment.
US-based EPAM Systems also targets UK graduates and says that Eastern Europe offers them good career possibilities. EPAM has its European headquarters in Budapest, Hungary, and software development centres in Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine.
Eva Babik, lead marketing specialist said that EPAM runs a comprehensive training and development programme for graduates, combined with a “wide variety” of projects and assignments to suit the individual's career path.
But she says the courses also extend to experienced IT professionals. Babik added that IT professionals in Eastern Europe are financially relatively better off than their UK or EU equivalents, which is an attraction for IT professionals.
EPAM offers UK IT workers offshore opportunities in software engineering, testing, architecture, business analysis, project management and general management.
Babik said that due to the success of offshore outsourcing it is now increasingly difficult to find UK-based graduate training or apprentice work in IT.
Also, UK-based IT positions tend to be either in house, where there is little variety and opportunity, or with IT service providers with offshore models, and UK-based roles that are limited to project management or business analysis, said Babik.
“The growth of EPAM means that there are always opportunities for staff looking to take more responsibility or a leadership role. Many of the UK or other Western nationals that are working in our near-shore offices are in senior positions within the company,” she said.
Other offshore outsourcers were also very keen to stress that they had plenty of offshore jobs available for UK IT professionals that were willing to make the move.
Rajiv Govil, HR Head Europe at another Indian outsourcer, HCL Technologies, said locally-hired British IT professionals get opportunities to work in HCL’s delivery centres across the world, and in any of the firm’s global offices in Poland, Brazil, Mexico, China, Malaysia, Northern Ireland, and, “of course”, India.
“It provides them with opportunities to learn the cultural aspect, organisation’s ways of working, offshore methodologies and work on some of the cutting edge technologies,” Govil said.
Like its competitors, HCL has been growing both in terms of revenue and employee head count. “There is a huge demand for talent in our global delivery centres and HCL offices across the globe. The assignments overseas are usually project driven and with a likely return to the host country,” Govil explained.
Paul Griffiths is head of European recruitment at California-based UST Global, which has significant outsourcing operations in India and the Far East. He said there are many opportunities for IT Professionals to work offshore with the company “whether you are a developer looking to become an architect or an analyst looking to become a project manager”.
“With offices and clients all over the world, joining the UST family presents an unrivalled opportunity to experience different cultures and different working practices. This not only gives our employees the opportunity to see different parts of the world but also to hone their skills in environments not otherwise available to them - arguably leading to a more rounded and confident individual with a wider and more effective portfolio of skills.”
He added, “There has been a dramatic increase in our clients looking to hire candidates who already have international experience and who can therefore give the company competitive advantage. Depending upon the line of business and the client requirements, skills required could vary across IT spectrum.”
There is clearly a demand for UK IT professionals to work either abroad or onshore for offshore outsourcers.
Peter Segal, managing director at recruitment specialist Ogilvie & Associates noted that there are opportunities, particularly for IT professionals to work onshore at manager level for these organisations.
“Many Indian outsourcers staff their middle and senior management roles with Indian personnel even In the UK. However their growth means that there are more managerial roles becoming available in general. The progression from developer to senior developer or from project manager to senior project manager may well be quicker," said Segal.
However he was sceptical about whether many UK IT workers were actually making the jump. “We do not see many UK staff moving abroad as they are expensive compared to Indian, Ukrainian, Polish and Czech counter parts.”
“Also the job market is relatively buoyant at the moment for UK personnel so there is no economic driver forcing people to seek work overseas,” he said. As ever, it comes down to personal choice.
Pros and cons of working offshore
For IT professionals looking to work offshore with an outsourcing company, there are many pluses and minuses that need to be considered, said Peter Segal, managing director of recruitment specialist Ogilvie & Associates. He was recently involved in looking to move a British national to the Ukraine, and advises people to consider:
1. Political stability. “There were troops on the streets at the time of the interviews!” said Segal.
2. Local tax rates. “This is a huge driver to move to the Ukraine.”
3. Local housing costs. “Kiev is very expensive for apartments in the ex-pat part of town.”
4. Ex-pat social life. This is important for partners, “particularly if English is not widely spoken”.
5. Education. “What is the quality of the international schools?”
6. Rent costs. “In Dubai you have to pay a year's rent up front; ditto school fees. So if you lose your job it is very expensive.”
7. Unemployment. “In some Arab countries you can only remain if you have a job. Being unemployed means you are deported,” said Segal.