The public and private sectors in Latin America must work more closely together in order to produce sufficient talent to satisfy the needs of the outsourcing market, including the demand for greater English language proficiency. Those are two of the key points that industry insiders have emphasized to Nearshore Americas in an assessment of the development of talent across the region. Another issue of major importance is the need to ensure that future generations of graduates are equipped with the skills that will be required tomorrow and not just those that are sought after today.
English Proficiency is a Must
Eugenia Rojas, Communications and Public Relations Manager for Convergys in Latin America, told Nearshore Americas that “Getting the talent that we need as a company is a challenge in the region. We continue hiring and growing but it is difficult. The industry seems to be growing faster than the talent pipeline. The main issue is English proficiency. We require almost 100% fluency in English and we see that in most countries – even though there are bilingual programs – people seem to be graduating with maybe 70% proficiency. That gap is making it difficult for companies to hire them.”
Convergys operates in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Colombia and Rojas noted that talent shortages “seem to be common across the whole Latin America region.” While there is a shortfall in quantity, there is no question about the quality of talent in the region, she added: “The Latin American workforce has proven to be very efficient and very effective. We have top performance and that’s why we continue growing here and attracting business. It’s a region full of educated people who learn rapidly and are focused on generating results for our clients.
“Many countries have taken significant actions to support the industry but we need to continue aligning our efforts so that the government, academia and the industry can jointly develop plans to guarantee not only the sustainability of our operations but also the growth of each country,” Rojas said. “More collaboration, coordination and communication is a must. We have to recognize that English as a second language is no longer optional if we want to remain competitive. We need energetic and widespread educational policies at all levels of instruction to promote the learning of English along with other skills.
“I often hear the question, ‘Are governments doing enough?’ and I think that we should stop thinking in terms of what is or is not enough, and become more aspirational as a region if we want to continue growing and become competitive.”
Forward Thinking is Key
Anupam Govil, a partner with sourcing advisory firm Avasant, told Nearshore Americas that “Latin America is doing very well in terms of developing a foundation of talent, whether it’s in the customer support/BPO space or in the IT/software development space. They have the talent to take customer calls or do Java.net mobile applications development but I think where the focus really needs to be going forward is on aligning the talent to the future needs of the market. The future needs are going to be more in what we call convergence technology, where you mash up mobility with social with Big Data analytics to create digital solutions for enterprises. That’s where the focus needs to be to really position Latin America as the location of choice for digital technology work.”
Govil continued: “It’s an area that some countries are trying to specialize in, for example Argentina and Costa Rica and to some extent Colombia and Chile, but I think more needs to be done by the public and private sectors to develop those skills. I don’t think either the government or the private sector can do it on their own. The government needs to create the initial programs and then the scaling up happens with the private sector. University curriculums are still providing the kind of talent that was required ten years ago but the industry moves forward at such a rapid pace so universities really need to lead the change by having more flexible curriculums and adapting quickly to the needs of the market, and they need direct input from the industry in terms of what talent they want.”
Businesses Must Be Proactive
Enrique Cortes, Managing Director at Luxoft in Guadalajara believes Mexico has great unfulfilled potential that can be realized if businesses take the initiative. “I think in the short term there is a big enough pool of talent to cover our needs, but we do very complicated software development so what we’re looking for is only available in small quantities and we need to nurture it. But in the long term I’m more worried because all over the world fewer people are studying computer science,” he told Nearshore Americas.
“We all need to help to resolve that problem. The government cannot do it alone, nor can the schools, it has to be everybody together. So at Luxoft we’re focusing on high schools because we believe that if can influence high school pupils then we can influence the studies they decide to pursue at college. And if we help them a little along the way then we’re creating employees for five or six years from now. It’s a very long-term view,” Cortes added.
“In Mexico we have some very good private universities but if you are a poor kid at a public high school then it may not even occur to you that you can go to a highly selective college. So we’re focusing on high schools in very poor areas of Guadalajara and we’re adopting them. We talk to the directors and tell them ‘we want to work with you to find your most talented students’ and then help them along the way. We organize interesting activities like hackathons and we invite the most talented guys from these schools and coach them. We’ve done a few of these now and its changing lives.
“We took one guy who was a troublemaker at his high school and he won first place in the hackathon against students from the prestigious Tec de Monterrey college and now he’s thinking of studying computer science and trying to enter the Tec de Monterrey. That’s the kind of thing we’re doing… To tell you the truth it’s very difficult for the government to do things like that so it has private industry.”
Mapping Human Talent
Chile boats the best human talent in Latin America according to “The Global Talent Index Report: The Outlook to 2015” compiled by global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The report also names Chile as the most improved country in Latin America, after it rose by five places since the 2011 index. Brazil also rose by four places, the result of “employment growing quickly, expenditure on education rising and the language skills of the workforce improving,” the report noted. Meanwhile, economically and politically troubled Venezuela plummeted 12 places since the 2011 ranking.
The Heidrick & Struggles report assesses global talent on the basis of the demographics, compulsory education, university education, quality of the labor force, talent environment, openness, and proclivity to attracting talent in each country. Its findings were broadly corroborated by the 2014 World Talent Report produced by the IMD, a top-ranked global business school based in Switzerland. The IMD report also ranked Chile as home to the best human talent in Latin America, while Venezuela was again the lowest placed country in the region. Like in the Heidrick & Struggles report, Chile was followed by Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico in the IMD ranking, albeit in a slightly different order.
The IMD report measures human talent on the basis of three factors: “investment and development in home-grown talent, reflecting a country’s public investment in education and the quality of its education system; appeal, reflecting a country’s ability to retain home-grown talent and attract talent from overseas and readiness, reflecting a country’s ability to fulfil market demands with its available talent pool.”
The Heidrick & Struggles and IMD reports only rank 60 countries worldwide, meaning many of the region’s smaller countries – particularly those in Central America – are overlooked. However, a more in-depth 2013 Latin America Talent Index by Heidrick & Struggles also includes Costa Rica, which ranks as the fourth best country in the region, behind Chile, Mexico and Brazil. The Dominican Republic also appears in that index as the region’s ninth placed country, sandwiched between Venezuela and Ecuador.