The Indians are coming!

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
12 June, 2018
Editorial: 210
Fecha de publicación original: 11 abril, 2000

He who does not go to my house, kicks me out of his

The Information Society is beginning to show signs of maturing. As we have said before, proof of the Internet’s social impact will come when it emerges from its computerised cloister and moves beyond its strictly technological environment. Something of this kind has occurred lately as European nations begin to show growing concern for defining education, public administration and labour policies related to the Information Society. Now this “coming out” of the Net is reaching adulthood as the demand for specific policies on immigration to help the market adapt to ICT (information and communication technology) increases.

In this, as well as in other aspects of the so-called “new economy”, US and European approaches differ considerably. While foreign computer technicians are offered permanent residence in the States, in Germany the government’s plan to import 20,000 Indian technicians for a maximum of five years has aroused the classic, virulent debate on immigration. “We, a technological country par excellence, are importing Indians!” And the fact is that this influx of immigrants is exceptional and and will not lead to others. The European Union, meanwhile, is keeping discreetly silent on the subject of this unexpected interruption of the Internet into demographic policies on the old Continent.

Faced with the inevitable, governments, industry and society in general know that they can’t just bury their heads in the sand: the explosion of electronic mail to come requires sufficient technicians trained in new technology with the skills and talents to fulfil the demands of the new economy. Although it sounds obvious, opening a high street establishment and setting up a virtual shop is not the same thing. The skills of the people involved in each case are different. And the same thing goes for the development of public administration, education, health, leisure or new urban spaces in cyberspace. If there is one thing everyone agrees on as regards these initiatives it is the need for training, and training of a new kind adapted to the emerging knowledge areas.

Teachers lead this call, but only because people listen to them more because of the sensitive positions they occupy. The question is, nevertheless, a two-sided one. Training, yes, but what kind? Can we wait until we have a market that has adjusted to the growth of the virtual economy or do we need to import more labour to make up for the lack of specialised workers? Both questions imply a complex exercise in prediction full of thorny dilemmas, such as higher education reform or social tolerance of immigration for technological reasons, to name but a few.

To make things even more complicated, experts and governments are unable to agree on what they are talking about. Before the Internet made its public début, the ICT labour market was a known factor. It was made up largely of telecommunications and software engineers, computer specialists, programmers, etc. The dividing line has become much fuzzier now. On the one hand, the market has received a considerable flood of users who, in a relatively short time, have begun to take on the jobs of ICT workers. Moreover, they have attained this knowledge as a result of –and as the driving force behind— the conversion the I in information to the I of informational. In other words, related to technologies that work in an environment such as the Internet where the capacity for user interaction in open architectures of computer networks is increased. On the other hand, workers trained in ICT have gradually moved into resource management, becoming technical or executive directors in businesses and the financial sector, making their job profiles less easy to define.

There is also a third factor to which not enough attention is being paid yet. The Internet is, basically, a computer mediated system (CMC). One can conduct electronic commerce through it, learn how to give birth, visit the summit of Mount Everest or study how to become president of something or other. But, it still remains a computer mediated communication system. The mere act of accessing the Net means that that communication already exists and this determines the functioning of the Net itself as well as its users. Consequently, the demographic explosion in the Net is also the explosion of communicators transcending the classic limits between university degrees as we have known them, both in journalism and in information technology. Many of them have become the driving force behind, or managers of, virtual projects for which they have had to acquire knowledge of a different kind and which the current structure of the labour market does not make available to them.

Nowadays, for example, a bank opens a new medium on the Internet with the same ease as we open a current account. And when we analyse who puts those pages full of information together, they are rarely journalists or communicators. Most often they are people from very different non-equivalent fields, as well as the regular assortment of managers, telecommunications or programming technicians or those trained in hidden corners of the world of business.

So, ironically enough, the Information Society labour market has become a fairly impenetrable region from which it is difficult to extract information about its exact composition. It is not an easy task to define the ICT worker and thus it is very difficult to say if there is a shortage or abundance of them. Partnerships between universities and companies look like the white sticks of the blind attempting to find their way towards defining the market. The most sensible policy is that which some universities attempt, placing students into Internet companies so that they can feel things out and decide what possibilities jobs in this sector have to offer. On the other hand, –as we saw in last week’s editorial– companies are creating their own in-house training departments despite their growing difficulties in keeping staff. Fidelity is a complicated affair in these cases, but investment in the training of human capital leaves companies with experience of great strategic value.

Present difficulties with training –above all at universities — and the “flight” of classical work roles to new niches created by the Information Society actively contribute to this fluid state of affairs on the labour market. Developed countries think that there are not enough ICT workers, but they aren’t really sure. And the reason is, to a certain extent, a simple one, as the OECD itself admitted in its recent report titled, “Outlook on Information Technology, 2000”, people with traditional academic profiles based on these technologies are much in demand, their salaries go up, it is difficult for companies to hold on to them and the market displays the typical signs of scarcity. And given the fierce competition that we can make out behind the scenes in electronic commerce, the governments of many industrialised countries –the US above all, Great Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Australia, South Africa, etc. — have decided that it is best to manage a false shortage than suffer the consequences of an illusory abundance later on.

These countries have begun to design local training policies in order to increase the number of ICT workers and reinforce their skills. At the same time, they are head hunting on the world market just in case. Up to now, this was done discreetly through job ads in the media of the respective countries thus affected. So, the US head hunted in Australia or South Africa, and they in turn did the same among themselves and in the US. The situation is about to change dramatically. The case of Germany is just the tip of the iceberg showing the rich countries’ State policies for organising migratory flows from places where this skilled work force is abundant, such as Russia, Central Europe and some of the Asian countries, India in particular. The only thing is that the usual debate on immigration policies by the industrialised countries takes place in a sounding box, the Internet, which might directly affect the dynamic of the discussion itself and its results.

On the other hand, what exactly is happening in India? Why is it becoming one of the main suppliers of the workers with the best future in the new world economy? We will try to explain this in the next issue.

Translation; Bridget King