High marks for digital infrastructure and well-trained graduates
The World Economic Forum (WEF) this week released the results of the 2013 Global Information Technology Report (GITR) that examines the extent to which 144 national economies take advantage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to increase economic growth and well-being. The report concludes that despite efforts in the past decade to improve ICT infrastructure in developing economies, there has been a significant lack of progress in bridging the digital divide between developing and advanced economies.
This year, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 72 out of 144 countries for its Networked Readiness Index (NRI). Although this ranking is lower than last year, Trinidad and Tobago’s NRI ranking is still higher than most Latin American and Caribbean countries. In addition, T&T ranked 53rd for its “Infrastructure and Digital Content—scoring higher marks due to its modern and well-developed communications network, the quality of its management schools, and focus on higher education for math and science.”
Countries in the region that made important gains in the scores and rankings of the NRI include Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and El Salvador, which was due to their ability to fully use ICT to boost higher productivity, economic growth and quality jobs. For a full list of rankings, visit the WEF website.
Although Trinidad and Tobago is a small country, its economic impact far outweighs its size. The richest of the major Caribbean islands, Trinidad boasts a per capita GDP of US$18,000, which puts it among the top quarter of the richest countries in all of the Western Hemisphere. In addition, its location at the gateway to the Americas, with the U.S. to the north and the expanding Latin American markets in the south, gives it a unique geographic advantage.
ICT has been identified by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as a key sector for growth and development. Plans are currently underway to build a strong ICT workforce and strengthen its assets as a location in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) market.
The country has already taken steps to enhance access to higher education through the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) Program, which entitles citizens to funding for 100 percent of their tuition fees. Due to education assistance programs like the GATE Program, Trinidad and Tobago currently boasts a local labor force equipped with over 6,000 engineering and ICT graduates.
Trinidad and Tobago is also realising its potential as a nearshore location within the BPO market. Due to its geographical proximity, Trinidad and Tobago can be used as a nearshore location to serve customers in the U.S. This enables client and vendor to maintain a close relationship, including more face-to-face meetings, and also means that problems can be solved in real time, without the delays that inevitably occur when work from the U.S. is offshored to more distant locations such as India or China.
A May 2012 report, “Trinidad and Tobago: Exploring Opportunities in the Global IT Services Market,” by Tholons, a leading strategic advisory firm for global outsourcing and investments, concluded that Trinidad and Tobago’s strong economic performance, robust infrastructure and cost competitiveness all contribute to its ability to achieve significant benefits through exploration into the services outsourcing industry. Given its small size, labor pool scalability presented a challenge to Trinidad’s success as an IT-BPO destination, but, according to Tholons, the country‘s high literacy rate of 99 percent mitigated such factors. The report states:
“Although in absolute scale, Trinidad and Tobago only churns out about 7,000 annual tertiary graduates from 81 higher education institutions (HEIs), the country has a higher concentration of graduates, accounting to 531 graduates per 100,000 people. Compared to mature outsourcing destinations like India, Trinidad and Tobago has nearly 100 percent greater concentration of graduates.”
In the years ahead, digitally connecting the hemisphere remains one of the key challenges for all of Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the GITR 2013 report, countries must focus on fully leveraging the potential of ICTs to boost regional productivity, and social and economic impacts, while strengthening its political and regulatory environment, increasing worker skills and investment, and focusing on innovation.
Trinidad and Tobago remains ready to do just that.