A Modest Proposal

In 1729, Jonathan Swift published what became an infamous satirical essay known today by its shorter title "A Modest Proposal." To prevent the children of poor people in Ireland "from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick," Swift suggested that impoverished families sell their children to be served as food for rich people. Not everyone realized that Swift was writing satire.

I am not clever enough to write satire, so my "modest proposal" is meant to be serious. It is a solution to two situations related to nearshore IT outsourcing.

Those two situations are the unemployment rate in the United States and the IT worker shortage in Brazil.

It's hard to nail down certain totals for the number of IT professionals who are out of work in the U.S. InformationWeek, which does a solid job monitoring this ongoing saga of sacked techies, reported that things were on the upswing — with 4 million IT jobs as of July, or an unemployment rate for the sector of under 4%. During the past couple years of this relentless recession, that figure has been as high as 6%. So, it would appear things have gotten a little better for North American IT workers.

On the other hand, those numbers are based on calculations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which realists know is always on the short side of reality because the BLS bases its count only on the number of people filing for unemployment insurance. Many, many unemployed people have stopped getting unemployment funds — the U.S. does not like the dole for out-of-work citizens — so those people are not included in the unemployment stats.

So, for the purpose of arguing this proposal, let's safely assume there are 50,000 unemployed former IT guys in the the USA. (I would bet a case of Pacifico that it's a good deal higher than that.)

Meanwhile, according to Sourcing Brazil, Brasscom estimates a current lack of 75,000 IT professionals in the country, "and that deficit could grow 10 times in the next nine years — a projected shortage of 750,000 workers by 2020."

Yikes. That's quite a shortage, and it's unlikely that Brazil, despite all its new efforts, will raise up that many qualified pros by then.

Okay, by now I suspect my modest proposal is obvious: Brazil should start importing IT workers from the U.S. Yeah, sure, 99.9% of them won't speak Portuguese, but these are generally smart people we're talking about. They could learn a new language. Submerse them in São Paulo or Curitiba or Rio and before you know it they'll be ordering feijoada and caipirinhas like they'd been there forever.

Of course there would be other complications, with visas and Brazil's byzantine labor laws and whatnot, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with. I am willing to bet (another case) that there is a sizable band of North American out-of-work programmers, web developers, system architects, and other professionals Brazil needs who would pick up and move south for a good job opportunity, and even to work for less than what they made in better times.

In case this idea of hiring gringos sounds farcical, consider this news: India's top IT and BPO providers like TCS, Wipro, and Infosys are looking to hire Westerners to fill their growing ranks, especially to help serve U.S. and European clients. Now, granted, they plan to hire most of these people to work in their indigenous locations — it doesn't sound like they are looking to import them into Bangalore — but the point is, they recognize it's smart to tap into the talent that's available beyond India's borders.

Considering the cultural affinity shared by the peoples of North, Central, and South America, nearshore IT companies should embrace this proposal. And why not? They'll end up with experienced, qualified employees — and employees that would bring an understanding of the mind of U.S. clients. And discarded gringos would end up with good jobs, and in a warmer climate.

Otherwise, we are going to have to follow Swift's proposal and figure out how to cook them.