As a key English-speaking nation in South America, Guyana has become a popular destination for companies in need of a competitive offshore workforce, and while its technical expertise are far from that of say India, the costs of training are outweighed by attractive labor costs and a ready supply of young people who are hungry to learn and earn.
Breaking down the numbers, around half of the Guyanese population is under 25 and the unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year olds for the third quarter of 2017 stood at a meaty 21.6%.
Investors are starting to recognize this potential, and the need to make their move sooner rather than later, so here’s some advice for taking advantage of this opportunity.
When entering a new market, it pays to know what talent is available. With many trained Guyanese heading overseas to the US, Canada, and the UK in search of better remuneration and more opportunities, Guyana is in fact lacking in skilled, technical workers.
Initially it may be necessary to bring in overseas expertise to carry out training or put systems in place, but, from then on, operations and maintenance can be handed over to local contractors or staff.
In carrying out this training, it’s crucial to balance the theoretical with the practical. Demonstrate how your offer works in a local context and then follow through to ensure training is being adhered to. One-to-one sessions and observational visits can assist with this.
As more companies realize the need for such skills and implement their own training, the skilled workforce in Guyana will quickly begin to fill out.
While much of this advice could be applied to any market, the Guyanese are in a position to benefit greatly from these initiatives.
As well as training technical staff, it’s important to ensure your customer service, product, and sales teams have the necessary understanding of your offer. A great way to encourage enthusiasm and understanding of a product or service is to incentivize staff to be users or customers as well as employees. An added bonus is you get valuable feedback on any glitches or areas for improvement.
Investing in the individual progress of staff is also important and helps avoid a high turnover. This could involve leadership training, purchasing access to pre-built courses, and educational assistance programs – making funds available for staff to take courses that will benefit them as well as the company.
Meanwhile, a social activities committee can bring a sense of community and loyalty to the company. The goal should be to make the company the employer of choice. That could be providing transportation for staff working late shifts so they do not have to wait at the central bus park at night, or posting photos of employee successes in a staff-only social media group.
Convincing the public
Introducing a new product, service or company to Guyana can be an upward struggle. As a mostly cash-based economy, where paper trumps digital and trust in mobile- or internet-only offers is low, convincing customers of the legitimacy of an unfamiliar brand is a challenge.
The introduction of services such as Mobile Money – a cellphone-based system of doing money transactions that began life in Kenya with a service called M-Pesa – has helped open the market and given financial inclusion to the underbanked or unserved segments of the country.
There are also legal changes afoot. Legislation to be brought before the National Assembly in 2018 includes the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill and the National Payment Systems Bill, so be aware of how that could impact your operations.
In terms of reaching your customer base, advertising can help with higher-income households and businesses. But to really allay people’s concerns you have to get your feet on the ground. Product fairs with giveaways, music, and snacks work well in sensitizing low-income and middle-income areas, and give visitors a chance to speak to reps face to face, ask questions, and try out the offer.
Another technique is to bring onboard local, trusted partners – be they local banks, telecommunications companies, government ministries, NGOs, or key influencers. While your brand may be untried, the association can help bring people onboard and give validity to the product.
Training your customers
When your operation is up and running, building customer knowledge is vital. Customer service hotlines can help with managing customer expectations and expertise, as well as staff in local branches, trained independent agents selling your product around the country, and ‘how to’ videos and FAQs online.
Such a network is particularly vital in a large country such as Guyana, where infrastructure is basic and travel between regions is expensive. Although the majority of the population lives in the capital city, Georgetown, significant markets also exist on the East Coast, over the Demerara River, and in towns such as Lethem on the southern border with Brazil.
Getting on the network
Thankfully, building nationwide connections and doing business in Guyana is becoming easier and increasingly attractive as the telecommunications industries make strides to boost connectivity and bandwidth capacity.
There are sub-sea cables bringing fiber-optic internet to homes and businesses in Guyana – a welcome commodity in a tropical country where the sun and rain have a tendency to disrupt non-terrestrial services such as satellite and microwave.
Improved connectivity means better operational efficiency and staff development. For example, some training can be delivered online and, with an internal intranet, employees can easily make leave requests, log sick days, clock in and clock out, see internal job postings, manage their KPIs, and much more.
While Guyana still has a few hurdles to overcome, such as developing infrastructure and improving the ease of doing business, the potential to leverage a young, English-speaking population in a US-facing operation makes it a worthwhile location to consider.