If the U.S. were a business, bankers would have liquidated it a long time ago—except now the bankers themselves are bankrupt. As the U.S. and other countries around the world have allocated massive amounts of money for stimulus spending, people everywhere are hoping that the global economy will soon turn around and show signs of promise. However, the reality is that no one really knows how long it will take or how many jobs will be created.
In the past, it was mostly low-end work that went abroad. This time, however, the jobs are not going overseas; they are simply disappearing from the companies. And, in order to survive the economic crisis, businesses are not just cutting jobs, they are rethinking fundamental assumptions: Do we need an engineer to run our Web site? How do we redistribute the work of laid-off workers among the remaining staff? What do we do to retrain people on the payroll?
Whenever the economy improves, jobs that existed in the past may never come back. Also, even though trillions of dollars are being used to prime economies around the world, most of that investment is going to projects that make no sense for a vast majority of white-collar workers. For example, what can a laid-off Wall Street banker do to rebuild roads and bridges? Surely, you don't expect him or her to get a degree in civil engineering, do you? Do you trust the banker to manage the project finances?
Similarly, there are hundreds of thousands of fresh graduates facing a bleak future. Their debt is mountain high and their dreams are shattered. So, what to do now? For sure, a lot of people are planning to start their own businesses or thinking of going back to school.
Go to West Bengal, Young Man
Another option: Move to India. Standard & Poor's (MHP) says that India's economy will grow by 5.8% in 2009, while the Indian government is predicting 7%. Even at 5.8%, India would be the world's second-fastest growing economy—provided China can grow at 8% as its government is proclaiming—and that's exponentially better than the negative growth predicted for the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Even though India shed more than 500,000 jobs between October and December last year and the export sectors are likely to suffer more massive job losses, a recent survey by Hewitt Associates (HEW) shows that more than 60% of companies in India are still hiring. The same survey also shows that salaries in India will grow by 8.2% this year, the best in Asia-Pacific. While that is a pittance for Indians used to 15% to 20% growth, it is music to workers' ears at a time when employers elsewhere are freezing salaries, asking staff to take pay cuts, and forcing workers to go on unpaid vacation time.
It is no wonder then that urban Indians are not slowing down. A 14-city survey finds the mood in India "positive." While the anxiety level remains high, 1 in 3 Indians is "not worried about the economy at all."
Many companies around the world are not slowing down in India either. PepsiCo (PEP) plans to spend $500 million. Universal Success Enterprises, a Singapore-based company, is injecting $17.5 billion in infrastructure projects such as a thermal power plant. Norway's Telenor (TEL.BE) is investing $3.2 billion in Indian telecom. Over the next four years, Marriott International (MAR) plans to build 24 new hotels in India. Panasonic (PC) is growing from 48 company-owned stores to 100.
Hiring Binge for Indian Companies
It is not just the foreign corporations that are spending money in India. One of India's largest business groups, Reliance ADA Group, is investing more than $2 billion in infrastructure projects in the Western state of Gujarat. Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO), the biggest wireless player in the country, is adding 17,000 rural outlets.
While there are no doubt plenty of very smart locals with relevant experience who are willing to work these days for up to 50% less pay than before, the market for the right talent remains buoyant. All kinds of outsourcing firms are looking to India for growth. Indian Overseas Bank (IOBK.BO) will be recruiting 1,200 people. Bartronics India (BARI.BO), a technology firm, is setting up kiosks in New Delhi and has 6,000 positions. Insurance company LIC (LICH.BO) is planning to hire 45,000. South Indian Bank (SIBK.BO) is opening 40 new branches and looking to hire 3,000.
If you speak English, can take a risk, and would like to be part of the new 21st century in the making, perhaps there is a job for you, too, in India. Indeed, catching a plane and starting a new life on the other side of the planet in an unfamiliar culture is not easy. But, then, what's left that's easy anywhere anymore?
Aseem Prakash is the former CEO of I Media Corp. Ltd. in India and the author of a forthcoming book, Midnight Economy: The New Business Order Emerging from the Shadows. He has worked and lived in India, Western Europe, and Asia, and now lives in Canada.