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Departments: First Word

  

Don’t Get Distracted

Chinese quality and other red herrings

 

 

I typically don’t listen to or read campaign speeches--too much of the same old blah, blah, blah. However, I was intrigued by Senator Barack Obama’s March 18 “race speech.” Although the thrust had little to do with quality as quality professionals define it, there was a thread running throughout that had direct bearing on a topic that Quality Digest is covering more and more: outsourcing and the need to address quality issues from our end.

Just as a recurring theme of Obama’s speech was about how we allow racial issues to distract us from the core issues plaguing the United States, so too are we distracted by the core issues behind global outsourcing. The United States has a history of resentment by both blacks and whites against each other, often for legitimate reasons. While we focus our energies on fanning the flames of resentment, issues such as unemployment, rampant foreclosures, and inadequate health care affect U.S. citizens of every ethnicity. When we look at China, the same type of distraction exists. The media play up every child labor or quality issue, reinforcing in some minds that the Chinese care only about taking U.S. dollars and sending us the most inferior products possible. These attitudes mask the real issue, which is the understandable resentment from those who have lost their jobs or who know those who have lost jobs to outsourcing.

Obama put it this way: “… the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you [here in the United States] might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.”

Complaints about Chinese quality and child labor issues, while real problems, are red herrings. They aren’t what are fanning anti-China sentiment: it’s frustration at the unspoken reality that outsourcing is here to stay. U.S. manufacturers are not going to stop sending business to China, and the U.S. government is not going to make them stop. So rather than wring our hands and look for every opportunity to denounce Chinese quality or labor practices (mind you, the United States is complicit in the majority of those issues), we need to learn to make the relationship work and be a part of the solution. We also need to address how we are going to replace lost jobs, rather than simply wish for them to come back… they aren’t.

In part one of “Face to Face with Chinese Vendors,” Stanley Chao lays the groundwork for better understanding U.S.-China business relationships. Chao’s key point is that we are expecting what was only recently a third-world authoritarian country to conduct business like a first-world democracy. Not only is that unreasonable, it’s counterproductive. As Chao points out, it’s better for us to take a proactive role in ensuring quality products and labor than to expect a culture that is just beginning to adapt to the realities of global commerce to step up to the plate overnight.

As for the lost jobs? Well, badmouthing outsourcing partners and wishing for them to go away isn’t going to create one job. We need to face that reality head on and use what has always been our biggest strength, U.S. ingenuity and innovation, to create new jobs. For instance, advances in nanotechnology and traditional machining are stretching the limits of dimensional metrology, even as the number of skilled metrologists dwindles. There’s an opportunity. That’s just one example. New technologies require people trained with new skills, and there are few countries better able to meet that challenge than the United States.