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Outsourcing not a popular option for Mississippi firms

Much has been written about the drain of jobs heading offshore as with call centers. There are also emerging national trends of professional services being offshored. But for now, it appears most Mississippi architects and engineers are keeping the jobs local.

Offshoring of jobs is an emerging issue in the engineering profession, said Slade Exley, senior vice president, Neel-Schaffer Inc., Jackson. But he is not aware of any impact it has had on Mississippi engineers.

“We have not done any of this type of outsourcing, and haven’t had a need to do that or seen any benefits to doing that,” Exley said. “We want the money to remain in the local economy. We’re not aware of any contacts being made with our company to offer such services.”

There can be some advantages to offshoring, particularly on time-sensitive projects. With the current technology, one could e-mail information oversees and the next day have the work back.

“While you are at home sleeping, they are producing the drawing,” Exley said. “The next day, they e-mail it back to you and you have a product.”

The issue of timeliness could be a bigger factor than the cheaper cost of doing the work overseas. And Exley sees the issue affecting technicians who work for engineers rather than engineers.

Engineering shortage

There could be a move towards more offshoring simply because there is currently a growing shortage of engineers in the U.S.

“There is just a lack of engineering graduates and available engineers in the market to produce the volume of work that we have,” Exley said. “What I see developing currently is a bad shortage of engineers in the U.S. I see the outlook for engineering graduates as very good, but there aren’t enough students going into engineering. It is not an easy major. There is a lot of mathematics involved. A lot of students take an easier road that maybe doesn’t require as much mathematics.”

Currently the profession is debating whether to require more education for engineers. Exley recently attended a conference where the idea was discussed that engineers should be required to have 30 more hours of college credits after graduation in order to become licensed. Basically, engineers would be required to have a master’s degree to get a license.

Exley said it might not be beneficial to make it harder to become a licensed engineer. It could exacerbate shortages, and discourage young people from entering the profession. That could put fewer engineers in the market which could lead to more outsourcing to foreign countries.

“I don’t know that we need to make it harder to become an engineer,” Exley said. “Where the whole issue is coming apart is all the universities tend to be trending towards requiring fewer hours in order to get a degree of any type. Consequently, that has reduced the number of hours engineers have in engineering subjects. So to maintain a certain level of competency in engineering without needing as many hours to get a B.S., the idea is that maybe we should require more hours after they get out of school in order to reach or achieve a certain level of competency. That is being debated pretty heavily right now.”

Graduates in demand

Dr. W. Glenn Steele, dean of engineering at Mississippi State University, said he has not seen offshoring creating any reduced demand for engineering graduates.

“There is a tremendous demand for all of our graduates so we aren’t seeing much effect from that on the jobs the students are getting,” Steele said. “Our graduates are doing well in the new economy. They are all getting jobs. But we are aware in some disciplines within engineering this is occurring.

“Some design projects can be worked on in the U.S. and then handed off to Asia, and then handed back to the U.S. so you can pretty much have 24-hour work on a project. But that has been integrated already into companies. So some graduates are going to work in environments that already have that kind of work plan in place. The ability to have continuous design development is a big issue. It is just part of the global economy we’re in now, so we’ll just have to be aware of the whole global picture. It isn’t just the U.S. anymore that we are competing with. It is the world.”

Offshoring work can also be an issue in architecture. But currently it doesn’t appear to be popular with Mississippi architecture firms.

“We don’t do it and will not do it,” said G.G. Ferguson, president, Ferguson & Associates Architecture, P.A., Jackson. “I don’t know if anybody is doing it. I could see where it might help some industries. But we like to keep on top of everything that is happening. That is almost impossible to do even if you were to outsource it just with someone outside of the company.”

Cheaper labor, but…

Outsourcing could mean finding cheaper labor, but Ferguson said it would take more time to manage the project even if it was just someone outside of the office elsewhere in the state or the country.

“I’ve heard of accountants and tax attorneys outsourcing tasks that are encapsulated and easy to outsource,” Ferguson said. “But we are involved in projects from start to finish with so many nuances and facets to it that we pretty much have to stay on top of it on a daily basis. We’re such a team oriented company. That is how we produce work. When a member of the team isn’t here, it doesn’t flow well.”

Ferguson has a sentiment towards keeping jobs in the U.S., but is aware of the increasing trend for outsourcing. He feels there could be pressure for outsourcing because of a shortage of skilled people in the architecture profession.

“So you would think that would be the next step for us,” he said. “If you can’t find employees here, you have to outsource it. But we have just made the decision we won’t do that much work. We are more focused on the quality rather than the quantity of work. We limit our number of clients. We limit our amount of work. What is important to us is keeping the clients happy. I’m afraid as people get into outsourcing even in the U.S. that you lose good customer service, that first hand experience with the project.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.


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