by Beth Bacheldor

The Offshore Rub

Jan 08, 2010
IT Leadership

National Grid gets stimulus money for high-tech projects and then considers offshoring high-tech positions.

The big news today is that 85,000 jobs were lost in December. Unemployment in this country runs at a high 10%, and the economy has lost 7.2 million jobs since the start of 2008. Our corner of the world also had its big, bad news:  Yesterday afternoon reports were coming out that a big Northeast utility—National Grid USA—may outsource as many as 1,200 jobs to an offshore vendor. Many of those jobs it’s considering shipping overseas are IT jobs (see ComputerWorld’s story here). It’s 2010, and the work world still looks bleak.

National Grid USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of National Grid, an international, London-based company that employs 27,500 people (63% of them here and the rest in the United Kingdom). The U.S. group delivers electricity to approximately 3.3 million customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island, and manages the electricity network on Long Island under an agreement with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).

Like most other utilities, it wants to re-invent itself in a high-tech push to build and operate so-called smart grids—electrical grids that leverage wireless meters, two-way digital technology, and intelligent monitoring systems to automate the control and flow of electricity to their customers’ homes and businesses. These grids will be driven by information technology, and thus by the high-tech denizens that run IT.

National Grid has already applied for, and won, millions of dollars in federal stimulus money President Obama has promised to encourage the build-out of smart grids and green technology. In December it announced it was chosen as part of a group for $7.3 million in stimulus funding for advanced energy storage projects in New York, Massachusetts and California, by the United States Department of Energy (DOE). The funding is part of $620 million in Smart Grid Demonstration Program funds that the DOE announced its selections for on Nov. 24. As part of this funded, three-year project, National Grid will install three energy storage units in Syracuse, N.Y., at a substation and at Syracuse University, to demonstrate and study storage control methods.

Ahhh… therein lies the rub. National Grid is getting stimulus money for a high-tech project that presumably will require big IT guns, and yet it is considering offshoring some of its high-tech, IT positions. Did I mention things look bleak?

To be fair, National Grid has told the media that no decisions have been made.

Whilst it is deciding, National Grid will have to bear growing political heat. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-N.Y.), sent a letter (and released it to the public) to Tom King, president of the National Grid USA, urging him to keep the jobs in the United States. And U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a news conference in front of a National Grid office in Syracuse urging the same. Interestingly, Schumer is leading the effort to reform and rewrite immigration legislation, which is expected to address H-1B visas. Overseas companies that provide IT services offshore are some of the largest users of H-1B visas.

I think it’s time citizens, particularly those who are served by National Grid, add their voices to the politicians’. And let’s hope National Grid listens.