I spent the first six years of my professional career at IBM, and it was probably the greatest career decision I ever made. Leaving that is. While IBM is vast with some of the brightest, most intelligent people you might ever come across, it’s drastically changed since the late 80’s, when employment was considered lifelong. It’s not “my father’s company anymore.” During my tenure (2000-2006), I saw many different faces of IBM, but I also started to see and hear something I’ve never heard of before, Globalization.
The lack of jobs, even in an economic recovery, reflects the cumulative impact of structural changes in the employment practices of U.S. industrial corporations. Beginning in the 1980s, plant closings eliminated the jobs of blue-collar workers. The next decade was characterized by the end of the norm of a career with one company, placing the job security of middle-aged and older white-collar workers in jeopardy. And then the 2000’s, the birth of globalization, which was characterized by the off-shoring of employment, leaving all members of the U.S. labor force, even those with advanced educational qualifications and substantial work experience, vulnerable to displacement.
The problem that these structural changes pose for the prosperity of the U.S. economy is evident in the history of employment at IBM. From the 1920s through the 1980s, IBM’s system of lifelong employment offered all personnel — including clerical and production workers — a career with one company. At the end of 1989, IBM employed 383,220 people worldwide. At the end of 1994, just five years later, that number had been reduced by 43 percent to 219,839. At first, IBM downsized by offering voluntary early retirement packages, thus clinging to the principle of lifelong employment. By 1993, however, IBM’s CEO Louis Gerstner, fired tens of thousands outright. By 1994, lifelong employment was a relic of the past.
Over the years, IBM shifted its business strategy from hardware to software and services. This change favored the employment of younger professionals whose higher education was up-to-date and who had work experience at other high-tech companies over older employees who had spent their careers working on proprietary technologies at IBM. It was this fundamental change in IBM’s business strategy that underpinned the decision in the early…