Nearshore Americas

Upskilling Gets Big Focus as Providers Grapple with High Demand

An analytical approach to problem-solving posits that breaking the problem down into smaller chunks is the best way to deal with it.

When a problem seems so massive as to be impossible to solve, such as the stupendous shortage of tech professionals – currently marked at 40 million worldwide – breaking that problem down is a challenge in itself.

But Nearshore tech industry leaders are doing just that. With so much business left on the table, companies are putting their best training foot forward and pushing internal upskilling and training initiatives at rates not previously seen. 

Javier Aranda, Javier Aranda, Founder and President of Truextend

“Internal training schemes are a risky investment. Failure percentages are high; some engineers don’t complete all training programs or some leave,” explained Javier Aranda, Founder and President of Truextend in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

“But upskilling is extremely important. If we were not using these schemes then we wouldn’t have the ability to grow. It’s all about scale,” he said. 

Upskilling Investment Jumps

Global organizations have been investing heavily into upskilling their workforces, All the way back in 2019, just before the pandemic arrived and exacerbated the needs for digital skills still further, Amazon had committed US$700 million to train a third of its US workforce, with the company noting the increased demand for data scientists and solutions architects among other roles. 

More recently, Microsoft announced that it would train 250,000 Americans for cybersecurity roles across the next four years, while last month Oracle began a training program, Oracle Next Education, that aims to train 40,000 Latin Americans in programming languages like Java. 

This is just a handful of initiatives that the largest tech brands on the planet have begun. Meanwhile, individual Nearshore players are taking their own picks to the problem, accelerating the development of in-place workers and developing lines of access for those not formally considered. 

Companies Pushing Upskilling Internally

Despite being based in Medellín, one of Latin America’s leading tech hubs, Cidenet is struggling to find adequate skill sets to match its needs. According to León Gil, Business Development Manager at IT services company Cidenet, in Medellín alone there is a deficit of 30,000 engineers. 

León Gil, Business Development Manager Cidenet

As such, the company recently made its first hires in the nearby nations of Ecuador and El Salvador. But committed to developing Colombian talent, Cidenet intends to grow its training programs to keep up with market demand.

To enhance in-house skills and help team members develop, Cidenet has cut eight hours from each employee’s week so that they can use the platforms offered to improve the skillsets for their role and begin learning new, associated abilities.

“Twice a week, employees are allowed to set aside four hours for learning, whether improving their own skills or learning new technologies and frameworks,” Gil explained.

Each month a new technology is added to training. In November, the company completed a full set of Scrum certifications. Last week, all employees received 24 hours of training in Flutter, an open source software development kit for apps.

But with such demand for tech skills, this alone isn’t enough.

“It’s vital not only to help juniors climb the ladder more quickly but also to initiate professionals from other areas of expertise, say engineers outside of the tech industry, into tech and give them the opportunity to learn these in-demand skills.”

“If you can’t provide that multidisciplinary team then you’re not an interesting proposal. It’s like trying to build a house and all you can find is carpenters; they’re just one part of the solution.” — Gustavo Parés

In order to do this, the company has a program, University Cidenet, that helps bring in those professionals with no tech experience but with skill sets that are likely to lend themselves to the thinking required for developers.

There are 30 enrolled in the current cohort, of which 10 are expected to be hired on a full-time contract and the others to be given various other options. At a minimum of US$3,000 in investment for each candidate during the 10 month course, Cidenet is putting its money where its mouth is for a company that currently employs 112 engineers. 

“We expect the size of our training programs to grow by over 50% in 2022,” said Gil.

In Mexico, similar efforts are being made by local tech players.

Gustavo Parés, Founder and CEO of NDS Cognitive Labs

“At the moment, our most pressing issue is the speed with which clients expect delivery,” said Gustavo Parés, Founder and CEO of NDS Cognitive Labs in Mexico. 

Parés credits Mexico’s large internal market, mature Nearshore offering and strong financial and manufacturing industries as granting a bedrock of talent for legacy technologies including Java, .Net, web design and even more sophisticated profiles like full stack developers. 

But for newer technologies, talent is still scarce, and without those newer technologies companies will struggle to offer the full service portfolio that Nearshore clients want.

“In all global projects we see the need for a multidisciplinary team of sophisticated talent. If you can’t provide that multidisciplinary team then you’re not an interesting proposal. “It’s like trying to build a house and all you can find is carpenters; they’re just one part of the solution,” he said.

NDS utilizes its Innovation Center, through which it invests into promising startups to solve last mile problems, and integrates skills from that startup into its umbrella to help other employees learn and develop skills. 

“Companies need to put serious money into scaling up the skills of their teams,” said Parés. 

“Some of our clients in Silicon Valley are asking that engineers have eight to 12 years of experience as well as complete English fluency, so even the most skilled 25 year old can’t win.”

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In Bolivia, Truextend is pushing automation upskilling, as well as DevOps with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, and automation testing, all of which are seeing an increase in demand. But the company is also speaking to clients to try to change mindsets on the level of experience they need.

“Accelerating the development of a junior to a senior is not an easy thing to do, and much of the time it’s simply a question of experience gained over time,” said Aranda. 

“We’re speaking with our clients to show them that junior engineers are in fact extremely capable. They do not lack quality. They may not be able to manage every task, but software projects are very capable of driving a project forward,” he said.

The company has begun setting up meetings with clients whereby they can interview the junior developers likely to work on their projects and can even be tested. So far, all juniors met the requirements of client projects.

Charles Green, Marketing Manager at Moove IT

Uruguay-based Moove IT is taking a more personalized approach. Marketing Manager Charles Green explained that the company’s work on smart contracts and with blockchain technologies for companies like Ripple means qualified talent is few and far between. 

“These are newer areas and its therefore harder to find people with the experience. That’s why there’s such a big emphasis on internal training,” he said.

The company’s ‘Dynamic Onboarding’ model gives each new recruit an initial mentor to help them settle into the company before they’re assigned another technical mentor that helps them create a career path and align their goals to available training initiatives. Holding onto valuable talent is essential, said Green, and the onboarding model has seen attrition rates fall. 

Learning from Other Industries

For Parés, the tech community should also take note of other traditional industries that have supplied skilled professionals for senior roles internally.

“In other industries there are great examples of upskilling and the internal promotion of skilled individuals,” he said, offering retail, financial services and marketing as three examples.

“In banking it is common to see senior-level professionals who have successfully climbed the ladder. Bank tellers can become VPs of Finance. These industries have ways to rotate talent horizontally and vertically, to the point where it is the status quo in those industries. We could definitely learn from this,” he said. 

Peter Appleby

Peter is former Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. Hailing from Liverpool, UK, he is now based in Mexico City. He has several years’ experience covering the business and energy markets in Mexico and the greater Latin American region. If you’d like to share any tips or story ideas, please reach out to him here.

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