Why is it that I have to keep being reminded – over and over again – that much of what we read or hear in the media is missing context. Why is it that I continue, year after year, to read interesting points in newspapers and magazines and parrot back their position – unless I know better? Why is it that I hear stories on the radio and take them at face value, even though when it is about a subject with which I happen to have intimate knowledge I know that they don’t quite have it right? In fact, sometimes they have it dead wrong. Why is it that, despite the number of times I am given the lesson to take what you read and hear with a healthy dose of skepticism, I continue to believe? I guess I’m a patsy.
My most recent reminder came this past week as I was driving to an appointment. The car is my radio time. I was idly listening to The Current on CBC Radio 1 while driving. The subject was outsourcing, of particular public interest because of the situation at RBC. For those of you who aren’t current with Canadian news, let me provide a brief summary, even if it’s tangential to my main point. Early this past week news broke that the Royal Bank had laid off 45 IT workers in its Investor Services unit in Toronto. Not many people in the overall scheme of things, from some people’s perspective. The work was to be outsourced, a fact of life these days. The rub came when it emerged that the outsourcing to India was a two-stage process. In fact, at least one employee who was being given the boot was asked to train the temporary foreign workers who would be replacing them – replacing them in Canada, at least in the short term. Thus two separate realities of our world collided: outsourcing and a federal program that allows temporary foreign workers to enter Canada on limited terms to fill jobs that have not been able to be filled by Canadians and allows these workers to be paid up to 15% lower than average Canadian wages. Needles to say, the program is not meant for temporary foreign workers to replace employed Canadian workers. You can see how an uproar might have ensued! After one or two false starts on handling the considerable fallout, the RBC CEO has now apologized to all its employees and to the entire Canadian public, whose custom he and his bank cherish.
Hence the topic of outsourcing on The Current. As I say, I wasn’t paying too much attention until I heard the host, Anna Maria Tremonte, ask one of her guests if, given the amount of IT services that are now outsourced, he thought people should no longer be going into the IT field. I was incredulous when this professor of IT management at Ryerson University, Ron Babin, actually said that he thought Canada wouldn’t be needing programmers for much longer and that he’d think twice before going into software engineering. What??!!! And there was nobody on the show to question that line or take him to task; he was their expert. To be clear, Prof. Babin’s expertise is in IT outsourcing and off-shore delivery. The fact is that technology companies all across the country – and other countries – are challenged to find enough skilled programmers, analysts, software engineers, and project managers. Computer science programs have worked hard for more than a decade to overcome the erroneous perception left with the public, thanks to the media, that after the dot.com bubble of 2000 there were no more jobs in IT. As a result, we have innovative young companies that could be making a difference to the economy of many regions, providing well-paying jobs and contributing needed corporate taxes, but they have trouble finding the employees they need to expand. Our innovation is constrained because we don’t have enough of these grads, not because we have too many. Irresponsible statements such as the one made by Prof. Babin on The Current are about as misleading and as unhelpful as possible. It’s very sad.
This is the lesson I have to keep relearning: don’t accept everything from the media at face value. When the subject being discussed is one about which I happen to be knowledgeable, I can recognize a question as inappropriate and know that the answer needs to be qualified, discounted, or challenged. In this case, Anna Maria Tremonte shouldn’t have asked the question she did to an outsourcing expert. When her guest gave such a surprising response, she immediately should have said something about looking forward to hearing what others have to contribute, giving the signal that even if she doesn’t know, she suspects there will be more than one opinion. When the discussion is on a subject about which I don’t have that level of knowledge, I’m sorry to say that more often than not I am likely to blithely accept what I hear and take it as a given. The thought that people who don’t know the IT industry would hear Prof. Babin’s response and accept that there is no future for technology graduates in Canada is beyond the pale. But if they react as I often do to things that aren’t central to their lives, then that is exactly what will happen.
Lessons to be learned:
- Not everything you hear or read from experts being questioned by the media is as it seems. They have their own perspective and their own agenda, and they are often asked leading or loaded questions outside their direct area of expertise. You can’t always take everything at face value.
- There is a shortage of qualified IT workers in Canada and elsewhere. The future is bright for computer science, software engineering, and other technology graduates. We need them!
Image sources: cbc.ca, ec.europa.eu