The Shockingly Large Number of Native English Speakers in the Nearshore

There are close to 7 million native English speakers in the nearshore, but the perception is the region is too small to scale. Tapping into the other geographies could open up even more scope for new talent and scale.

English speakers

“The Caribbean is too tiny to scale” is a refrain we hear often when it comes to tapping into the expertise of the region, despite the overwhelmingly positive experience of those who have invested there. But the close to 7 million native English speakers that call the Caribbean and Central America their home equates to at least the total population of non-native English speakers in Colombia, a country with 45 million people, less than 10% of whom speak English with any proficiency. In fact, some estimations are even lower, putting the number of Colombian English speakers at just over 2 million. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at what this region has to offer?

There are 12 English-speaking countries – excluding the USA and Canada – across the Caribbean and Central America, and together they offer over 6.7 million native English speakers that can be recruited for BPO and contact center work. Population figures vary widely, but all point to a total English-speaking people of more than 6 million. If you look at that in relation to the total young and skilled Caribbean workforce of 13 million, that’s a large proportion of English talent.

From tiny Antigua and Barbuda, with its just more than 100,000 people to the 2.9 million population of Jamaica, these countries use English as their official language and often also have multilingual populations offering a variety of European languages such as French, Dutch and German, as well as Spanish.

There are also other Caribbean islands where English is spoken widely, such as Aruba. While Papiamento and Dutch are the official languages, English and Spanish are both widely spoken. The Dominican Republic has the best English speakers as second language in Latin America and also offers services in Spanish, according to Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (CAIPA).

The English-speaking countries are:

Country Population
Antigua and Barbuda 104,084
Bahamas 403,095
Barbados 287,010
Belize 390,231
Dominica 74,679
Grenada (except for small French Creole population) 108,825
Guyana 786,508
Jamaica 2,906,339
Saint Kitts and Nevis 56,345
Saint Lucia 180,454
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 110,488
Trinidad and Tobago 1,375,443
TOTAL 6,783,501

Source: Worldometers Elaboration of data by United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision.

When it comes to BPO and contact center outsourcing, the big numbers of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which together account for more than half of that figure, and Guyana are quite often the first port of call.

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Ibex Global CEO Bob Dechant, for example, told Site Selection magazine in November last year that there is a plentiful supply of educated, English-speaking workers in Jamaica. “Contrary to old narratives, the Jamaica workforce is highly motivated, very professional and love the BPO jobs we have created,” he said, adding that Ibex has approximately 3,500 full-time equivalents in the Kingston side of the country. “Agent attendance and retention are metrics we measure closely globally to ensure our agents are committed and engaged. Our Jamaica business competes very well globally.”

Of the 10 largest call center FDI projects in the Caribbean (2013-2016), according to CAIPA, five were for Jamaica, three for the Dominican Republic and two for Guyana. Trinidad and Tobago have also positioned themselves beyond BPO to software development and services and data centers, leveraging their solid IT infrastructure and growing talent pool.

But the Caribbean is more than just these growing countries, and the sheer number of English speakers poses interesting questions and possible opportunities, particularly given the concomitant cultural affinity most share with USA, the time zone compatibility and the value of education across the region. Then there is the cost factor. “The Caribbean offers 10% to 30% lower costs and delivers above average results,” according to Caribbean Export, a regional trade and investment promotion agency.

Tapping into the other geographies could open up even more scope for new talent and scale. Given all this, maybe it’s time to take another look at the Caribbean because the sheer numbers seem to point to scalability.

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