America must act quickly to stave off the exodus of white-collar jobs to foreign countries, according to an article in the latest issue of Across the Board, The Conference Board’s bimonthly magazine.

“For corporate America as a whole, if CEOs needed any more incentive to pay more attention to long-range planning and encourage entrepreneurial thinking within organizations, the offshoring trend should provide a convincing kick in the pants,” said Matthew Budman, managing editor of Across The Board and author of the article, which quotes a variety of management experts.

Management Guru Tom Peters is not especially optimistic about what choices U.S. companies will make or even about the prospects for those companies’ survival. Peters said: “I think we’re entering a 50-, 60-, 70-, 80-year period of instability, where I can well imagine the great American economy being surpassed by the Chinese or the Indians. The certainty is gone, which suggests that workers don’t have that long to screw around. You’ve got to figure out what you have to sell in a global economy – and then sell the hell out of it.”

Christopher Meyer, former director of the Center for Business Innovation, said that workers must stress distinctiveness over superiority. “Either U.S. income will fall to the level of those in other countries who have the same skills, or we have to have different skills. The loss of manufacturing jobs is just another chapter of technological progress in our economy. [It is] part of a long-term trend of manufacturing jobs leaving this economy – and we should applaud it.” Meyer pointed out that a country advances by replacing lower-level jobs with higher value-added jobs.

Dow Chemical’s Andy Hines, the chairman of the Association of Professional Futurists, said: “If we stand still, there will be up-and-coming economies that will take the things that we’re doing now…Knowledge workers can lose too – “if they stay at the same skill level as somebody in India…If you’re going up against a European-headquartered company, your only value-add is going to be creative, innovative and forward-looking.”

Top executives in particular face broader issues than their own careers and are at greater risk than front-line white-collar workers of losing their place in the next economy. Budman said: “If all the positions you used to supervise are 8,000 miles away, and your salary is now thousands of times higher than theirs, you’re affordable only if you can offer something truly extraordinary.”

The Conference Board is a not-for-profit business research and membership organization.


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