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The Big Issue

He was visibly shocked, my friend, a long-standing Director of a well-known IT company. The previous day, we had been discussing the expected wave of redundancies that was about to wash over the UK and he had thought his own job was safe. Instead, he and several other members of senior management had been given their marching orders, leading me to comment that it was all rather looking like an episode of ‘Band of Brothers; it’s quite hard to find anyone I know over the age of 48 who is left in this business over the last twelve months.

Another person, a ‘Knowledge Worker’ in the IS department of a name we all know, told me:

“It’s all getting rather silly. All the plants have been removed and there’s no coffee for meetings either. There are very few Indians left to do the real and a disproportionate number of chiefs with grand titles hanging on by their fingernails, it’s all rather sad and is actually creating more inefficiency rather than achieving the streamlining that the US had in mind”.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the silent recession and I’m wondering how much longer we can ignore what’s happening in the industry around us. This week, I learned that Unisys, a company that made savage cuts last November, is about to prune its European workforce back even further and it’s not alone.

What appears to be happening in many examples, is that the US headquarters of these large and well known companies, worried by declining sales, poor forecasts or even prospects of a visit from the FTC, conduct a workforce reduction exercise on a spreadsheet, which in some regions, ignores the successful operations and collectively axes entire programmes or departments, such as an ASP programme, in the interest of reducing costs globally.

What I see occurring here in the UK, is that other than friends and people I know in the industry losing their jobs, there’s a vague and sinister sense of ageism a work. Of course, senior management are expensive but I can’t help but wonder, as an Observer, whether ‘the recession’ is also being used as a convenient excuse to remove the geriatrics in larger organisations; that’s anyone like me, over the age of 45 and who admits to owning a cardigan and a Volvo.

Forget then the glossy television and web site advertising, because where can all these IT people go? The answer is that I don’t know. What I do believe is that too many big companies are too under-resourced to offer their customers the service they deserve and that a great many talented individuals are suddenly finding themselves holding P45s with little or no immediate prospect of finding work in the foreseeable future.

I can recall two previous recessions in this industry and both were painful and more like sudden contractions compared to what I have witnessed in the last eighteen months. While IT companies peddle the benefits of technology, they forget that any dream of eBusiness and even a Knowledge Economy, have to be built by people and that the gravitational effect of downsizing can only go so far before this industry slowly collapses into a black hole of its own creation.

Meanwhile, the expression ‘Buddy can you spare a dime’ springs to mind and for those readers who have recently received or are about to receive bad news, I can only wish you luck and a more profitable career outside the ungrateful world of IT.

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