Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

The Controversial discussion about Outsourcing and Technical Writing

An auto rickshaw (aka a three-wheeler taxi) showing an ad of a call center training institute in the South Indian town of Madurai. Photo Credit : http://anticap.wordpress.com

Indian technical writing industry is often blamed for taking  technical writing jobs away from North American markets. In various mailing lists, this issue raises its ugly head from time to time, starting a heated debate about the threat of outsourcing to non-English speaking countries such as India. Tom Johnson, in his article about technical writing jobs, considers outsourcing (of technical writing jobs to India) as a threat to the technical writing industry in North America.

Do you think that India really represent a threat to the North American technical writing industry?

History of Technical Writing in India

Let’s go back to the history of technical writing in India. The prime reason for the growth of the technical writing industry in India was the major cost difference in living. When I started working as a graduate Engineer in New Delhi, after putting in four years of hard work to become an Engineer, my first salary was $100/month. Compared to North American salaries, it was significantly less!

Another significant reason was the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) certification of Indian software companies where documentation was a part of the certification criteria.

Cost, however, is still the major reason of current growth in Indian technical writing industry. I remember that when a new technical writing team of ten was started by a multinational organization in India, in midst of the 2008 recession, the justification given by management to everybody was the cost saving of nine salaries as the entire team of ten Indian technical writers will cost almost one-tenth of the payroll cost of the U.S technical writers!

Jobs are going away from India too!

If you think that jobs are moving from North America to India than think again. Jobs are moving from India to other low-cost countries as well. There are many examples that can be put forward to substantiate this theory.

The average working wages in Ghana – a country where 27% of population is living on less than $1.25 per day, is several times less than the wages of professionals working in India. This makes it even more beneficial to outsource work to Ghana instead of India. A lot of French companies have opened call centers and data entry centers in Ghana, as it provides an approximate 50 percent lower cost even by Indian standards. How long will it be before such small countries will pick up the technical writing profession?

China, another country with living costs much less than India, has made a mission to ‘English Literate’ its masses. A rough estimate is that by 2015, nearly 60 percent of its population will be able to speak Queen’s English as fluently as a technical writer living in San Francisco. How long will the Chinese be away from making inroads into the technical writing profession?

Romania, a country with a large English-speaking population with living costs similar to that of India, has already made a global impact in the area of web-based content and the day is not far when they will seek to repeat this feat in the core technical writing industry.

The fittest wins out at the expense of their rivals

The only way of managing competition from other countries is to become adaptable and to rise up the skill ladder. Adaptability is the key to avoid any serious competition because technical writers everywhere (including India) will face tough competition from countries having similar or even lower living costs.

In the words of Charles Darwin, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest wins out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”

What do you think about outsourcing of technical writing jobs? Do you see outsourcing as a threat to the technical writing industry? Leave a comment and let me know.

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7 responses to “The Controversial discussion about Outsourcing and Technical Writing

  1. Spenser Wun April 9, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Quite interesting bit about Ghana. Makes sense though.

  2. Larry Kunz April 9, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I pretty much agree with you, Gurpreet. But it’s complicated.

    Traditional technical writing in the U.S. IS threatened by offshoring. Those kinds of jobs are going away, and they won’t come back. However, technical communicators who adapt and broaden their skill sets will not be threatened. I find it fascinating, though really not surprising, that you’re giving the same counsel to technical writers in India: you have to adapt in order to survive.

    I don’t think we’ll see jobs going to places like Ghana in the foreseeable future. They lack the educational system, the public-works infrastructure, and the English-speaking population that are needed. Jobs will go to China, as you say. But soon the pay rates in China will be comparable to those in India. Same with countries like Romania (and neighboring Hungary, where I recently visited and found technical writers who are skilled and enthusiastic).

    The world certainly is changing fast. As you said, we need to change ourselves to keep up.

    • Gurpreet Singh April 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      I completely agree that it’s complicated, Larry.

      I was doing google keyword research to find topic of my blog post and saw that most search queries for technical writing terms were coming from Philippines and India. I think pay rates are already comparable between India and China.

      In few years, with a double-digit salary raise every year, the Indian/Chinese salary level will become comparable to North American salary level as well. World is changing faster than we are!

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