Critical Factors to Consider Before Selecting a Nearshore Location, Part 5: English Proficiency

A nearshore location’s English proficiency is fourth category analyzed in the T&T IFC whitepaper “7 Critical Factors to Consider Before Selecting a Location in the Booming Nearshore Market.” In the weeks to come, we will publish more sections in an ongoing series that will further break down the aspects that go into the nearshore decision-making process. You can also read the introduction and other sections here:

English Proficiency

Inherent in the term nearshoring is proximity. This means that the bulk of the companies seeking the benefits of outsourcing services to Latin America and Caribbean are located in the United States and Canada. And the large majority of the people in both of these nations speak English.

So, in short, the more English speakers a service-providing country has, the better. This means that nations with native English speakers, like Jamaica, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago, have an innate appeal that their Spanish-speaking rivals can never match.

Johan Gott, an analyst at Chicago-based global consultancy AT Kearney, has seen this play out already, albeit across the Atlantic, in South Africa. Though it wasn’t initially known for services, he says it has now positioned itself as a “booming” contact center market for U.K. companies that love its English skills and time zone.

From the time he has spent in Trinidad, Gott came away thinking that the country is also on the right track by trying to leverage its language advantage. “They’re doing it just the right way,” he says. “They’re capitalizing on their strength, which is English speaking and a relatively sophisticated business support and business services economy.”

There is also an absolute-versus-proportional aspect for companies to keep in mind. While Colombia doesn’t stack up well on rankings that measure the percentage of the population that speaks English, it is a country of nearly 50 million people. And Bogotá, with more than eight million residents alone, has a significant number of people who are proficient in English.

But on top of percentages and raw totals, there is another issue to weigh: competition. Bogotá is home to many banks, multinational companies, marketing firms, and others that fight tooth and nail for the city’s limited pool of English speakers. They are in high demand, and that generally leads to larger employee turnover rates. Smart companies factor all of that into the mix when considering their destination.

As with talent pool development, this isn’t the easiest metric for countries to improve in quickly. But it doesn’t entail all of the same challenges. A complete education takes a lifetime. Learning a language can be done in a year with dedicated effort.

While some work for North American companies can always be done by Spanish speakers — especially customer service for the US Latino population — countries looking to attract more firms would be wise to invest in English-learning incentives for their citizens. The goal should be trying to drop the price associated with learning the language as low as possible. “We’re talking about U.S. companies,” says Sebastian Menutti, an industry analyst at the San Antonio-based consulting and research firm, Frost & Sullivan. “So high proficiency in English is a requirement.”

Photo credit: StockSnap / Pixabay

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