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International Relocation: In Defense of IBM and Project Match

IBM is under fire this week from many for its plan to offer laid off workers in the U.S. assistance in relocating to IBM offices in other countries. The program, named “Project Match,” specifically offers relocation help in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. The story broke this week Monday in Information Week, and the news has spread rapidly through other outlets such as The Raw Story.

Comments in Information Week and The Raw Story are notable for their vitriol and strong raw emotion. IBM is accused by commenters of sending U.S. workers overseas to work for pennies. Much of the invective is saved for India and seems coarsely xenophobic.

In point of fact, as I understand it, these workers have been laid off, and are free to pursue any opportunities they choose. Ex-employees of IBM are not being coerced to work overseas. They are being given an option which many of them would be wise to accept. IBM is a global corporation with offices in most countries. And the 21st century is a global century. Many young people in college today are learning Chinese and expect to live and work in that country. Having global and international skill sets in one’s resume strengthens earning potential and improves the chance of remaining employed.

I understand that many employees, particularly those in their fifties and older, may be aghast at the thought of uprooting their lives and living in another country. But this is a different world, and any opportunity is still an opportunity. An international relocation is not a life sentence – one might come back from two years in Dubai with an enviable work record and be a catch for any U.S. corporation. Many of the countries listed under Project Match are colorful, exciting and interesting places to live. The IBM worker’s salary (though less by dollar exchange rates) would still put them in the local upper classes in many of these countries, allowing them luxuries unheard of in the U.S., such as the ability to hire house staff, a cook and a driver, and many other perks. People with open minds might view this as an adventure and a big step up into a larger world.

I applaud IBM’s Project Match for opening its employees up to these unexpected, exotic opportunities. Unless U.S. citizens learn more about becoming global citizens, partly by actually living overseas, we are not going to be able to adapt to the economic challenges ahead. Those who do not adapt, perish.

13 Comments

  1. ard00d

    Your reasoning is only valid as long as the employee does not desire to return to the US. While they are working overseas at much lower wages, they will not be able to invest and save at a rate that will allow for comfortable retirement when they return to live in the US.

    Meanwhile, executive greed continues through the exploitation of highly productive US workers at cut throat wages. I recently quit IBM after being disgusted at the precipitous drop in quality I saw when US workers were replaced with BRIC workers. I’m sure that there are very intelligent and productive IT workers in these other countries. However, most of the IBM BRIC employees I was unfortunate enough to work with are not even close in skill level to the US workers they replaced.

    IBM is only concerned about lining their pockets. Employees, and even customer satisfaction, are no longer major concerns. This does not seem like a sustainable model to me, but I’m sure the execs will make millions more in the short term. Greed. It’s only about greed.

    Posted on 05-Feb-09 at 09:23 | Permalink
  2. James Dey

    Interesting article. Not yet convinced about the glories of globalisation, however. It’s not as if it’s the first time it’s been tried.
    intra-country trade was significant at the start of the last century and only declined as a result of the last major reduction in global credit in the early 1930s. Globalisation’s protagonists point out that the more trade that countries do, the better off each country becomes. This may be true but that doesn’t mean that the gains are evenly distributed amongst the population of each country. What appears to happen is that workers salaries are levelled across a global scale, whilst owner-capitalists profits increase. It would be a surprise if globalisation survived the credit crunch given that most countries are democracies and a significant proportion of the electorate will suffer a decline in wealth and naturally be attracted to more protectionist policies.

    Posted on 05-Feb-09 at 09:31 | Permalink
  3. ard00d: (1) I am also concerned by drop in quality which I see from heavy reliance on offshore. I believe that offshore resources seem largely to be junior-level technical people, and many are in dire need of senior level assistance. This is an opportunity for US citizens to expatriate and work more closely with these teams.

    Unfortunately US corporations will learn the hard way how they are relying excessively on offshore. U.s. companies need to have more supervision over Indian/Chinese teams, and spend the money on supporting expatriate staff and regular rotation of citizens overseas.

    ard00d point #2: these options are being given to laid off workers. Their retirement is already in jeopardy. It is a fact that international work experience enhances your resume. There may be a period when expatriates cannot save reasonable amounts of money toward retirement. But, as I understand it, we are probably in a depression. I expect this to happen. The important thing is to survive the next few years. We can comfort ourselves with anti-capitalist recriminations or we can get on with the task of surviving the current downturn. Hopefully all these employees who are not happy with relocation can find work locally that meets their expectations.

    James Dey: I sincerely hope you are wrong. Turning back within and instituting protectionist policies would probably only worsen the current downturn. You may be right, but in the 1930s we did not have the Internet. The cost of doing overseas business is much lower now. I don’t see use of offshore talent going away. I think it is more constructive to take it as a given and move forward with a more mature model for managing onshore and offshore teams, cubicle workers and remote workers whether in the U.S. or overseas.

    Posted on 05-Feb-09 at 10:58 | Permalink
  4. BadforAmerica

    Learn the truth about IBM:
    http://www.endicottalliance.org/jobcutstatusandcomments.php
    Doing business with IBM is bad for the USA

    Posted on 06-Feb-09 at 06:36 | Permalink
  5. Chris

    To put it in perspective imagine this scenario:
    A young man or woman returns from overseas armed forces service. He or she gets some education in what everyone says is the field to go into, IT, and then gets a job with IBM. Now this person is told that essentially, he or she just isn’t good enough to enjoy the benefits and privileges (for which they have sacrificed and maybe bled for). What they need to do is move away from their friends, family, home and country and sacrifice some more. While IBM’s CEO accrues enormous wealth, wealth created in part by the folks that are being asked to give up their lives, yet again.

    Posted on 07-Feb-09 at 14:11 | Permalink
  6. Chris

    “….one might come back from two years in Dubai with an enviable work record and be a catch for any U.S. corporation.”

    1) Dubai isn’t a location that is part of Project Match
    2) Yeah.. “I worked an an overseas IT sweatshop” is something that really pumps up a resume.

    This isn’t the same as some exec getting his ticket punched by doing his 12 months overseas ( while still getting his US salary and most likley having all his expenses paid by the company.

    Posted on 07-Feb-09 at 14:58 | Permalink
  7. Chris: Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates, which IS part of the IBM program.

    I get the impression none of the commenters have actually tried working with Project Match – they are just jumping to negative conclusions that any job outside the U.S. must be of lower quality. Why not try the program and then reject it, once you determine that the salary is too low for you? Negative comments to this post are long on emotion, short on detailed criticism.

    I doubt even if any of the commenters are former IBM-ers affected by the lay-off. If any are, and are unwilling to entertain the possibilities raised by Project Match, then you can simply ignore Project Match and find your own new job without IBM’s help. Nobody is holding a gun to your head.

    Posted on 09-Feb-09 at 12:59 | Permalink
  8. Allen

    And while these employees uproot their lives, and are making significantly less wages than they are in the US, what of their car payment, cred cards, etc… A mortgage can be disposed of (sell the houe), but what of the other financial commitments that individual might have ??

    Posted on 19-Feb-09 at 11:04 | Permalink
  9. Don’t assume everybody has the same issues. Once again, this is an opportunity you can feel free to pass on.

    Posted on 19-Feb-09 at 11:24 | Permalink
  10. Tomdickandharry

    The proof is in the results – how many US-born ex-IBMers are going to be willing to move to some hellhole to work for local wages? I’m guessing the number won’t even make it to triple digits.

    IBM has made its business model clear – 10,000 US executives and administrators, and 400,000 sweatshop workers. At some point, I’m guessing they will move to Dubai to line up right behind Halliburton. There is already a backlash going on among US buyers of IT services over IBM’s policies – I know a couple of people with purchasing decisions who have permanently scratched IBM off of their list.

    Posted on 23-Mar-09 at 14:56 | Permalink
  11. @Tomdickandharry: like other commenters, I think that you wrongly assume that any country that is not the U.S. is a “hellhole”.

    Posted on 25-Mar-09 at 13:07 | Permalink
  12. Cassie

    Jeffrey is clearly an IBM lap dog (for now). When his job gets offshored, I’m sure he’ll change his tune.

    Posted on 29-Mar-10 at 18:40 | Permalink
  13. @Cassie – My job has been outsourced twice. Every time I immediately found a better job that was more appropriate to a senior DBA. If your job can be offshored that easily, you may think about changing your skillset.

    Once a DBA position becomes so routine that any junior DBA can handle it, it’s ripe to be offshored. I pride myself in not staying in positions that are beneath my capabilities.

    Posted on 29-Mar-10 at 21:09 | Permalink

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