PARTNERWORLD: IBM starts fund to aid displaced workers

IBM Corp. will create a US$25 million, two-year training fund to assist employees who fear their that jobs are at risk of being shipped away to lower-cost locations, company executives said Monday at IBM’s PartnerWorld conference.

The growing clamour in the U.S. about jobs lost to outsourcing unnecessarily begrudges the employment gains of “countries that are simply trying to improve the standards of living of their people,” IBM chairman and chief executive officer Sam Palmisano said during a keynote address at the conference, which is being held in Las Vegas.

Called the Human Capital Alliance, the fund will help workers in positions likely to be affected by the outsourcing trend to retrain for new jobs, ideally with IBM or one of its business partners, according to IBM spokesman Clint Roswell.

At its current budget size, the Human Capital Alliance won’t be a large program, Roswell acknowledged, but he estimated that it could be used to aid several thousand employees. Its scope will be global, but its aim will be to assist employees in developed countries, including the U.S. and the U.K. The fund’s potential uses include paying for training, relocation and placement costs, Roswell said.

IBM said it will work with its business partners to determine fields in which employees should be retrained. Technologies the company considers strategic include Linux, Web services and business transformation consulting, according to Roswell. He cited data entry and legacy application development as examples of areas out of which IBM would seek to move its employees.

IBM has an uneasy relationship to the outsourcing issue, which is gaining political momentum in the U.S. as elected officials respond to worries about the shifting job market. The company speaks openly about the savings it has seen from outsourcing some manufacturing work, and it encourages other companies to outsource IT work to specialists like IBM.

At the same time, IBM is eager not to be seen as moving jobs out of the U.S. to developing countries as a cost-cutting move. When corporate documents were leaked last year suggesting that executives were pursuing such a strategy, IBM officials insisted that expansions in its workforce in places such as India and China would not come at the expense of jobs elsewhere. Last month, IBM said it is in the process of hiring 15,000 new employees worldwide.

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