Resources and Media: News Release: General Business

Trinidad and Tobago — The road to ICT readiness

ICT in Trinidad  and TobagoAs a nearshore ICT destination, Trinidad and Tobago possesses high potential, primarily rivaled within the region by Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Despite a small ICT/Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) employee base, T&T has a competitive advantage in the region in terms of infrastructure and quality of education. It is with an eye towards this strength that invesTT, as the nation’s investment promotion agency (IPA), has focused its efforts on promoting the development of the human capital of Trinidad and Tobago within the field of ICT.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has identified ICT as a fundamental resource and platform for creating new jobs. Not only has ICT been pegged as one of the key sectors for economic diversification, but it has also been recognized as a critical enabler for the Six Strategic Business Clusters: Energy, Food Sustainability, Culture and Creative Industries, Maritime Industries, Tourism and Finance. A thrust in these areas, enabled by a well-developed ICT sector, will build stronger industries and aid in the diversification process.

One of the key elements in developing this workforce is building the sophisticated skill sets needed in the ICT industry. Trinidad and Tobago has already taken steps in enhancing access to higher education through the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) Programme. Under the GATE Programme, Trinidad and Tobago citizens are entitled to funding for 100% of their tuition fees, increasing the nation’s competitive advantage through the high quality of our labour pool. Due to education assistance programmes like the GATE Programme, Trinidad and Tobago currently boasts a local labour force equipped with over 6,000 engineering and ICT graduates.

Trinidad and Tobago’s higher education institutions (HEI’s) offer high quality technical courses to students through the University of the West Indies (UWI), the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), the College of Science, Technology & Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT), and the School of Business and Computer Science (SBCS).  These HEI’s offer programmes in ICT at the certificate, diploma, Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, with a focus on practical application and theoretical knowledge. 

With an annual graduation rate of 400 ICT-trained students from these HEI’s, and an unemployment rate of 5.8%, Trinidad and Tobago provides an adequate and highly attractive workforce for ICT-based business. invesTT has recognized that in order to build a strong ICT industry, it is imperative that T&T possess an attractive, highly-skilled workforce that can meet investor demands and foster enterprise development in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The base of trained personnel along with some upcoming finishing school projects will provide the initial people capital needed by these new businesses,” said President of invesTT Mr. Kelvin Mahabir. “To take advantage of this industry, which is growing at an exponential rate, requires a significant increase in graduates over the next 5 years. The creation of quality good paying jobs in a globally accessible industry like ICT will create a significant growth path for our country. Economic growth outside the core gas and oil sector is fundamental to invesTT’s mandate.”

According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Tholons Report “Exploring Opportunities in the Global IT Services Market,” Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest concentrations of tertiary level graduates in the Latin American & Caribbean (LAC) region, annually churning out about 531 higher education institutes (HEI’s) graduates per 100,000 people (see Table A, “Country Comparisons of Higher Education Institutions per 100,000 people”). It is imperative that Trinidad and Tobago maintain its highly competitive tertiary education rates, as the number of tertiary graduates in the country will be a determinant to the success of its long term ICT strategy.

ICT competency and readiness in Trinidad and Tobago is no longer a far-reaching goal, but rather the natural next step in its development journey. As highlighted by the World Economic Forum 2012 Global Technology Report, the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) is a quantitative result that measures the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness.  Barbados currently has the highest NRI in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, and the third highest in the hemisphere (after the United States and Canada). Barbados is ranked 35th on the global scale, while Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica rank 60th and 74th respectively (see Table B, 2012 NRIs for the top 10 ranked countries and select Caribbean countries). Trinidad and Tobago stands ready to rise in the rankings, and boldly aims to compete on a regional and global scale in one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

With an eye towards this goal, invesTT has taken an active role in supporting opportunities for developing Trinidad and Tobago’s ICT capabilities. invesTT primarily lends its support by sponsoring industry events that provide opportunities for learning and skills development, such as WorldSkills Trinidad and Tobago, “Unleashing ICT for Development” with former Obama Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, the Teleios Code.Jam 2012 Competition “Is there an app for that?” and the 2012 ICT Business & Innovation Symposium.

As the proud Gold sponsor of WorldSkills Trinidad and Tobago, one of invesTT’s objectives was to directly contribute to changing the perception of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) amongst the nation’s youth by providing them with the chance to show, develop and test their ICT skills. “InvesTT’s role in the promotion of this year’s WSTT ICT-Focused competition in IT Network Systems Administration and Web Design not only re-affirms their commitment in developing Trinidad and Tobago as a top prospect for ICT-based business but will also seek to bridge the gaps of labour, education and environment.” commented Omeeta Jaggernath, Official Delegate and Project Leader of WorldSkills Trinidad and Tobago.

The best eight students in each field went on to compete for the top spots in Information Technology Network Systems Administration and Web Design in October at COSTAATT. The most successful competitor in each discipline will go on to represent T&T at WorldSkills International 2013 in Leipzig, Germany.

Unleashing ICT for Development” saw open data champion Aneesh Chopra address a room of ICT experts, business owners and Government ministers on the value of human capital in ICT. Sponsored by invesTT and hosted as part of TTCSI National Services Week, the seminar focused on the human impact of ICT and the innovative use of open data to drive economic growth. During a lively and informative Q&A session, Mr. Chopra pinpointed rapid skills-development on the practical application side of ICT education as the necessary focus for developing the industry here in Trinidad and Tobago. “Human capital, human capital, human capital,” said Mr. Chopra. “Infrastructure investments are no longer just roadways, railways and runways.” 

The 2012 Teleois Code.Jam Competition “Is there an app for that?” is the only software development competition targeted at tertiary level students in Trinidad and Tobago. Now in its fourth year, the competition’s key objective is to inspire participants to be as creative and innovative as possible in terms of software creation. 

According to Mr. Kevin Khelawan, Chief Operations Officer at Teleois, “Teleois Code.Jam is about providing a platform for which many can benefit from, it is about creating the industry.  This year we were looking for sponsors who bought into the idea of Teleois Code.Jam and identified with the bigger objective of creating a software industry. invesTT’s thrust to grow the ICT industry in Trinidad and Tobago aligned well with our vision and as such the partnership were seamless.”

Presented by iGovTT and sponsored by invesTT, the recently-held ICT Business and Innovation Symposium “Realizing The Future - From Vision To Reality” played host to international cloud computing experts Jeffrey Kaplan and Jeremy Geelan, as well as a global collection of thinkers and innovators in ICT-enabled fields. The Symposium brought together leaders in business, Government and academia to discuss technology ideas and policies, the transformative impact of ICTs, and the potential for the leveraging of ICT as a tool for regional economic development.

Said iGovTT Chairman Mr. Atiba Phillips, “Beyond the technology lies people; and the fact is that the implementation of these initiatives brings change. As such there is a need to gain buy-in, through a process of information giving, awareness building, discussion and consensus. This is the value of the Symposium, to allow a broader discussion – whether amongst public service organisations, citizens’ groups or business owners – to engage and understand the possibilities and opportunities available to them and mature the conversation around ICT. This is why events such as this are so important.”

President of invesTT Mr. Kelvin Mahabir participated in the breakout session, “Development of the ICT Sector in Trinidad and Tobago,” along with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro-Enterprises Development, Mr. Carl Francis, the President of the T&T Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and founding ICT Society President, Danny Jaggernauth, and Mr. Girish Pathak, Head of the Caribbean IXP Project. The discussion centred on the building of enabling technology policy to meet critical ICT developmental demands for economic diversification.

Speaking on invesTT’s role in Trinidad and Tobago’s development process, Mr. Mahabir stated, “invesTT, as the nation’s IPA, lobbies for policy measures aimed at increasing the awareness of ICT benefits, providing affordable and reliable access to technology, while allowing training and skills development. Combined, these measures set the foundation for developing ICT related businesses and economic activity.”

The panel of speakers pinpointed the necessity of Trinidad and Tobago introducing ‘finishing schools’, similar to those in Latin American nations like Uruguay,  to bridge the gap between higher education outputs and job market needs.  With greater alignment between employer labour demands and human capital pools, these countries have been able to expand their base of employable talent and create rapid economic growth.

Similar to Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay is a small country tackling a big development agenda. The Latin American nation has twenty years of experience in developing free trade zone business parks (at Zonamerica, WTC and Aguada Park), and has significantly advanced successful operations in the development of global services through the development of appropriate legislation for attracting and protecting foreign investors. Trinidad and Tobago is embarking on a similar path by attracting investors with significant export potential, developing the financial services sector, Tamana Business Park, and the appropriately trained human resources from universities and finishing schools; and the sustainable development of East Port of Spain.

After a successful meeting in Uruguay this November, invesTT is on track to propose a project through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to have two leading business innovators come to Trinidad and Tobago to explore development opportunities in ICT. This includes the positioning of the Tamana Business Park as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a crucial move in creating the enabling infrastructure to draw foreign direct investment (FDI) to our shores.

As Trinidad and Tobago embraces its future, invesTT continues to forge ahead by building the necessary support structure to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). The focus is now on ICT as the most critical factor in the economic diversification and sustainable development of our economy.

Table A: Country Comparison of Higher Education Institutions per 100,000 people

UNESCO Country comparison

Table B: 2012 NRIs for the top 10 ranked countries and select Caribbean countries

WEF NRI for top 10 countries

(Source: WEF/INSEAD)