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Science Careers Blog

August 9, 2010

Your tax dollars at work in Sri Lanka

With millions of Americans, including many with technical and scientific qualifications, struggling to find work in a brutal job market, readers of Information Week were surprised to learn of a program by their government's US Agency for International Development that was apparently designed to train thousands of workers in Sri Lanka and Armenia for the IT outsourcing industry.  That certainly would conflict with President Obama's stated desire to keep high-tech work at home.  The story, which which sparked outrage in the blogosphere, does not relate directly to the job prospects of scientists.  In today's jittery economy, however,  with some scientists fearing that certain kinds of research work can follow IT jobs overseas, any indication of federal policy on the offshoring question is bound to attract attention.

Information Week quoted a press release from the US embassy in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo describing planned free courses in "Business Process Outsourcing, Enterpise Java and English Language Skills" that would prepare 3000 "under- and uemployed students" to "participate in on-the-job training schemes with private firms."

But according to a statement to Science Careers from USAID, U.S. workers need not fear for their jobs after all.  The program,  "will not displace American IT workers," says the unsigned statement.   The idea that it would arose from the press release "erroneously stat[ing] that trainees would learn Enterprise Java...that is not true," the statement continues.  In fact, the prospective students have "no exposure to even basic IT technology" and instead will study "basic IT competencies."  The goal is to help young people of the "marginalized, economically depressed" Jaffna region, which is just recovering from decades of civil war, "find jobs in the local economy" and also to "build a basic local skills base" that hopefully will draw Sri Lankan investment to the area. "The reference to 'Enterprise Java'" in the inaccurate press release was a mere inadvertent "holdover from initial discussions," the statement continues. 


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