While Guatemala has historically lagged in its development of strong English capabilities, the country could be poised to take a U-turn as the public and private sectors combine their resources.
“The English level in Guatemala is improving,” said Ronald Erese, Marketing Manager at 7 Guatemala. “About two years ago, it was much harder to get quality people in terms of English level. Back then, the English level of applicants was about 50-60%, but after the introduction of government programs, we’re now able to find agents with a 70% English level.”
When considering the EF English Proficiency Index 2017, the country has always been fairly low in the ranking, but dropped even further from 46 to 53 between 2015 and 2016. This places it ahead of Venezuela (60) but behind Panama (50), making it the 12th most proficient country in Latin America out of the 14 studied. Even so, industry players and government officials are determined to bring the country in line with some of its more capable regional neighbors.
Moving Up the Educational Food Chain
The BPO industry in Guatemala provides voice, chat, email, and back office support for US companies. Guatemalans are reportedly more skilled at writing, because bilingual schools place more emphasis on grammar, reading, and writing compared to speaking and listening comprehension.
While the Ministry of Education has a minister responsible for bilingual education, this bilingualism has been centered on Spanish and local Mayan languages, not English. The government rightly wants to maintain Mayan languages, so has been focused on supporting indigenous tribes through education, which unfortunately has left English on the wayside, until recently.
“In the past few years, the Ministry of Economy has seen the importance of English for generating better employment opportunities for citizens and stronger economic growth in the country,” said Erese. “Thus, more programs are being launched in partnership with the private sector.”
New and Ongoing English Programs
The call center and BPO industry, together with AG Export, the Guatemalan export association, created the Guatemala BPO Commission, which developed a finishing school certification for call centers with the help of the Ministry of Economy. The program has a 10-week intensive course that helps students achieve the English level required by contact centers.
Different Municipal governments such as Villanueva, Guatemala, and Xela have also partnered with the Guatemala BPO Commission to recruit young students into the finishing school through local employment fairs.
The Municipality of Guatemala and the UN Development Program also partnered in 2011 to launch Munijoven, which targets the goal of increasing study and job opportunities for young people, as well as promoting social inclusion and building a society with less discrimination. One of the projects included in the program has been providing English training scholarships
Talent Returning Home
Another channel of English talent into the country is deportations from the US. After Mexico, Guatemala receives the second-highest number of deportees from the US each year – more than 33,000 Guatemalans were deported in 2015, and 55,000 in 2014. These individuals return home with improved English abilities and therefore find it easier to Segway into BPO roles.
In Guatemala, roles within English-speaking call centers pay double to quadruple times the monthly minimum salary (roughly US$350), with potential raises and opportunities for advancement, so it’s an attractive prospect for the many people returning home.
If the private and public sector can continue to collaborate and communicate the value and importance of BPO for the country, Guatemala should be able to more rapidly feed its English-speaking talent pool.
Check out other countries in this Nearshore English Evolution series by clicking here. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic, so please join the conversation in the comments below.