Nearshore Americas

Central America’s Acute Shortage of SAP Consultants Triggers Move to Import Talent

The scarcity of Systems Applications and Products (SAP) consultants in parts of Central America is leading recruiters to look elsewhere in Latin America for talent. However, the high cost of importing consultants from well-stocked nations such as Colombia and Mexico has led recruiters to import from Venezuela, where talent has proven more easily attainable due to ongoing political and economic uncertainty.

Regional Differences

There is a shortage of SAP analysts in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua, according to Maureen Trigueros Perez, general manager of SAP and IT recruitment at human resources firm Trigueros & Asociados in San Jose, Costa Rica. Meanwhile, “Panama has plenty of personnel in this area and Mexico has a lot too,” Trigueros told Nearshore Americas.

Further south, Trigueros said “Colombia and Venezuela are the strongest countries in this area because they have academies that prepare their personnel.” In contrast, Costa Rica fails to produce enough talent “because of the lack of training – there are no formal academies here like the ones they have in Colombia and Venezuela,” she explained. “So we’ve had to import people who can pave the way for a new era in Costa Rica.”

Costa Rica lags a long way behind the likes of Mexico, where Mirthala Lozano,SAP Manager for Neoris’s Cemex project, told Nearshore Americas that there is no longer any such shortage of consultants.  “When SAP began here in 1993 there were no consultants here. They were only in Germany or the United States so if you wanted a SAP project it was very expensive to bring a consultant to Mexico, Central America or South America,” Lozano said. But then “SAP certification began in Mexico in 1999 and as a result of this there are now many more consultants here.”

Most SAP consultants in Costa Rica are employees of consultancy firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Capital Solutions, although they’re then assigned to work for their clients, Trigueros said. One might have thought the recent cuts announced by Intel and the Bank of America would led to a greater availability of SAP consultants in the Costa Rican market but this was not entirely the case. “The Bank of America call center closure had a big impact because there were around 1,500 employees there,” Trigueros explained, but when “Intel closed one of their operations they opened three more where they re-hired many of the people that they had laid off. So they’re now in a strong recruitment process in order to bring in more talent.”

Finding Talent for the Right Price

SAP consultants in Costa Rica typically earn between US$4,000 and US$6,000 per month, Trigueros said, but this is not enough to draw large numbers of consultants from countries such as Mexico.

“Wages in Mexico vary a lot depending on the worker’s level of expertise and the project they’re working on,”Lozano explained. “The average wage for a SAP consultant in Mexico is lower than in the United States or Europe but high in comparison with Latin America because we have many projects and rollouts to implement and this creates higher demand here in Mexico.”

Wage differentials – and the other costs of importing talent – mean Costa Rican recruiters cannot afford to bring in many consultants from places like Mexico or Colombia, Trigueros explained. “It is quite expensive to bring a consultant from a consultancy business (in another country). They have very high salaries and you have to provide them with benefits in order to expatriate them,” she told Nearshore Americas. “As well as sorting out their paperwork with the immigration department in order for them to become residents, you also have to give them accommodation, life insurance and medical coverage. So it can be a very expensive and complicated process.

“For this reason we’ve been bringing in more people from Venezuela because we know that the situation in their country isn’t the best,” Trigueros continued. “I’ve personally worked on the expatriation process of many SAP consultants from Venezuela to Costa Rica … Many of them are looking for ways to leave Venezuela in return for a salary that’s not so high, but still competitive.”

Does Location Matter?

Although wages and costs differ across the region, Lozano believes, from a recruiter’s point of view, that “the quality of an analyst does not depend on the country that they’re from; it depends on the manner in which they learned SAP and the manner in which they’re implementing it. So you’ll find very good consultants and very bad consultants in all parts of the world.”

Moreover, globalization and technological advances mean it is becoming less important where SAP services are provided from, Lozano added. “An important point to consider regarding the demand for SAP consultants is that today’s technologies allow us to reach our customers in different ways,” she explained. “Now, with remote services via Internet, we can serve regions of Europe and Asia from Mexico, without our end users even being aware of our geographical location. This has made it possible for us to offer SAP consultancy services at competitive costs all over the world, including both implementation of projects and providing support and continuity in SAP service.

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Where recruiters must be careful, Lozano said, is when it comes to vetting potential employees. “Companies must be careful of consultants that lack expertise but claim to be experts,” she said. “Recruiters here are advised to ask for references from businesses where consultants claim to have experience so as to check the quality of their work and confirm that they really implemented projects there.”

Duncan Tucker

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