Nearshore Americas

Guatemala’s Human Capital Conundrum: Getting Students to See a Future in BPO

The most populous country in Central America with 14.7 million inhabitants, Guatemala is experiencing the common developing nation scenario – a huge youth population – as 70 percent of the population is less than 30 years old according to the National Statistics Institute of Guatemala (INE). That gives Guatemala’s serious potential in professional business services, are Guatemalan youth shown a pathway to BPO and KPO jobs? Nearshore Americas has produced several articles on Guatemala in the recent past, but have yet to review and interpret the report produced by PRONACOM (a participatory national program that facilitates efforts and alliances between public sector, business, and civil society organizations for the development of human capital) and Invest In Guatemala on the trends of Guatemalan youth accessing higher education from 2000-2011.  Below are some highlights.

The report used data from eight Guatemalan universities to conclude that those eight pillars of higher education in Guatemala produced nearly 75,000 graduates between 2000 and 2010 with an average annual graduate growth rate of 16 percent.  An annual growth rate that puts Guatemala on track to have 500,000 university graduates by 2020 (2.9 percent of the projected population) according to the report.

The three most frequently chosen careers by knowledge area are Humanities, Economic Sciences, and Engineering (Systems, Information, and Computation).  Humanities is first with 18,482 graduates, Economic Sciences second with 11,134 graduates, and Engineering third with 8,191 graduates.

In Guatemala the licensing of university graduates is required by associative bodies that then publish the names of the licensed professionals.  The data in the PRONACOM/InvestGuatemala report for professionals grouped by different association listed 9,536 engineering, 12,884 business function (accounting, economist, administrator, etc.), 11,550 Legal, and 13,500 humanities.

Call Center and BPO Ready Graduates, Claims…

The report states that 15,166 Guatemalan’s graduated in careers given to call center and BPO work between the years 2000 and 2009.  The report states in the same breath that “The central theme in this sector is dominance of English,” and goes on to make a debatable conclusion stating that “If we take into account the data from the university graduates and the associated professionals…we can say that Guatemala has more than 80,000 bilingual professionals, above all remembering that the majority of the country’s universities have as a requirement the English language to be able to obtain a university degree.”

Most universities in Latin America have a language requirement, and most students chose English because of its practicality.  Despite that, a university graduate that has taken a few years of English coursework and passed an exam is quite different than a bilingual professional that can truly utilize their English skills in a professional setting.

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Brenda Castañeda from Invest in Guatemala told us that every graduate must pass a TOEFL test to be able to graduate, but that there is no other figure to more effectively measure Guatemala’s English speaking workforce than that derived from the university and professional association numbers.

Much discussion has taken place in Guatemala over the last few years to expand the pool of BPO-ready talent. Only time will tell if enough effort is placed on enticing the sizable youth population to consider a career in global services.

Jon Tonti

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