Nearshore Americas
Trinidad & Tobago

With Untapped Human Capital, Trinidad & Tobago is Ripe for Nearshore Expansion

While the talent shortage problem grows, countries with significant untapped human capital increase their competitive advantage. As Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) -a country that is a bit late to the growth of the BPO industry- advances its economic diversification, the labor market there remains very favorable for potential employers.

Almost every company has recently struggled to find the right talent. Independently of the industry, CEOs and leading business executives have to rethink how to cultivate and attract the human capital necessary to fulfill essential business functions. According to ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage Survey, 3 out of every 4 companies have reported talent shortages and difficulties with hiring in the last year.

The well-known “skills gap” is at the center of this problem. Another survey, this one conducted by Gartner, showed that 75% of employers blamed the talent shortage for the delay in adopting automation technologies. Nearshore Americas has extensively reported on this issue and highlighted its impact as well as potential solutions being tested.

Trinidad & Tobago relied on natural resources to drive economic development for the last few years. Now, it could become the next major Caribbean location for nearshore outsourcing services.

Labor Saturation and Industry-led Training in Trinidad & Tobago

Established nearshore markets are suffering from a saturation of labor supply. Today, Costa Rica has the same talent shortage levels as Canada, Singapore and Belgium. For technology roles, the situation is even more dramatic. This is forcing employers to hire students to fill junior and sometimes mid-level technical roles.

For Jamaica, the Caribbean’s outsourcing star, the number of BPO jobs might soon reach 50,000. Companies there continue to succeed and expand, creating a human capital supply issue that leading industry players are trying to solve with multiple upskilling programs.

This opens question about how to navigate talent shortages and simultaneously continue to drive the wave of nearshore growth. The BPO industry in Trinidad & Tobago employs only around 3,000 people, while the country currently has a talent pool of around 10,000 available to enter the workforce. For reasons like this, AT Kearney Global Services Location Index has continuously ranked T&T as a potential top tier destination for global services firms.

However, having people ain’t enough. The name of the game is upskilling through targeted training programs. This is another area where T&T already shines. The country is experimenting with multiple academia-industry partnerships that allow students and employees to go through new rounds of training.

There is a slightly different approach to how T&T is engaging with BPO firms and potential investors: the opportunity to not only hire but to actively participate in the talent development process.

Securing the skills and conditions firms need to effectively create employment and added value should be the norm in every nearshore destination. T&T is moving towards that by incorporating a virtuous cycle of talent development, investment attraction and employment creation. This cycle recognizes that industry needs to be an essential component in reducing the skills gap.

High-End Services and Infrastructure to Support Talent Engagement

The question for a country such as Trinidad & Tobago, which now has to compete with BPO destination giants such as Jamaica, is how to find a niche segment and strategically position its workforce in order to become attractive for leading firms.

One answer could be higher-end services. Moving away from traditional call center operations, which other markets already provide, could open the space to properly deploy a younger, tech-savvy labor pool.

There is growing interest among nearshore outsourcing providers to explore more Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) operations. In finance, accounting, health care or legal, the opportunities continue to pile out. For Trinidad & Tobago, which has very good high school graduation rates and around 80 tertiary level institutions, there is a natural match with firms looking to increase their involvement in KPO.

Trinidad & Tobago already has 5G network, and the government has identified the upgrading of its telecommunications infrastructure as a priority. This offers guarantees to firms that want to engage the country’s workforce.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry experienced a major transition to remote work. Many of these experiences were very successful and, today, remote work is part of the model of multiple successful operations. Again: it’s not only about having the people and developing the skills.

Current circumstances force firms to engage their employees in new, creative ways. That is why it is so important to have the infrastructure to confront any challenge that emerges. It is also about taking advantage of the opportunities. Certain laws in T&T have allowed firms to deploy the talent of migrants to advance its operations.

Nearshore Americas reported on various initiatives oriented toward incorporating migrants into the economy of receptive countries. Most notable are the cases Tent Partnership for Refugees (IAOP), a global BPO association; and BPrO, a Colombian BPO association, to facilitate the hiring of Venezuelan refugees, allowing the BPO sector to lead the way in integrating Venezuelan migrants into Colombia’s workforce.

In the case of Trinidad & Tobago, which has also received an influx of Venezuelan migrants over the last few years, some companies have incorporated this talent to launch bilingual operations. Make no mistake: T&T remains a primarily English speaking market, but this experience reflects the potential of the country to not only produce sufficient human capital but to incorporate outside talent as well.

Bryan Campbell Romero

Bryan Ch. Campbell Romero is the Investment and Policy Editor at Nearshore Americas. He also contributes to other publications with analysis on political risk, society and the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Cuba and the Latin American region. Originally from Cuba, Bryan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy (Licenciatura en Filosofía) from the University of Havana.

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