Nearshore Americas

El Salvador Gets Boost from US Agency to Improve English Skills

It is no secret that Central America faces some challenges on the road to create a robust and truly bilingual professional workforce. Local efforts at English education are inconsistent across the region and many hardworking students graduate with less than an intermediate level of spoken English–far below what contact centers require for entry level employment.

Sykes, Teleperformance and Transactel have all created near hire, in-house, finishing programs that give new hires about 100 contact hours of fresh training. However, none is able to serve large numbers of candidates. Nor are contact centers specialists in the English business. This often requires that they hire outside English teachers.

Quality in education is a perennial theme in the region and much has been written on the need to modernize curricula and improve quality. In the meantime, there is a real pressing need for well-trained personnel due to expansion efforts; and many believe that national governments should address this shortfall.

Costa Rica has done more than most to tackle this problem, spending as much as $20 million dollars a year on English language training.

Hope are running high that El Salvador will climb quickly in English language skills with the announcement last week of “Access to Employment,” a joint effort between El Salvador and USAID.  The goal is to benefit 8,000 students and workers over a four year period, 5,000 of whom would receive intensive English training within the first two years of the program. Its aim is to train workers and provide them with tools that the labor market demand in order to increase their chance of securing good jobs. Key focus areas are computing and English.

The initiative seeks to improve the link between employers and training providers to improve program quality. A formal alliance has been created between with the Professional Training Institute (INSAFORP) and the Investment Promotion Agency of El Salvador (PROESA).

The goal, according to Economy Minister Hector Dada, is “to improve the functioning of the Salvadorian labor market.” The minister said they are working to modernize the economy and “the training of the workforce is critical.” The program has a total funding of $ 7.5 million for a period of four years.

In mid Summer 2008, USAID commissioned a study entitled, “El Salvador Workforce Development Assessment.”  A series of goals and strategies for both the government of El Salvador and the private sector were offered:

  • Create immediate momentum for higher skills supply and demand by developing adult English language skills;
  • Enhance communication between businesses and trainers by supporting relevant and broad use of skills demand assessments;
  • Establish an accreditation system for training institutions;
  • Improve institutional ability to deliver skills;
  • Support long-term strategies linking basic education with careers.

If past performance is any indication of future outcome, there is much that still needs to be done.

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In 2006, the Salvadorian government, as part of its National Education Plan 2021, created the National English Center, with the intended purpose of training students to work in call centers.

Yet as late as 2008, when Dell Computers sold its contact center to Stream Global, fewer than 15% of NEC graduates were actually employable in the contract center industry, a major reason for Dell’s ultimate decision.

Jon Felperin, MA TEFL (jfelperin123@earthlink.net) has over 26 years experience as an educator, teacher trainer and educational consultant. Based in El Salvador, he divides his time equally between Central and South America.  His main business focus is the BPO/contact center industry and he promotes e-learning language solutions for GlobalEnglish.com and Saywire.com.

Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

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