The Daily Brief – The Job Market in Ecuador
Latin America is an extremely competitive regional career market, with many rapidly growing economies jostling to distinguish themselves from the neighboring competition. Smaller countries, like Ecuador, are often represented as challenged to overcome larger neighbors such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile. However, this belies the belief that “bigger” is necessarily “better”. For some multinational corporations, the value is found in smaller countries, and the job market in Ecuador is worthy of note. They however, like most good “value players”, move swiftly and softly.
Take the case of ThoughtWorks, a company headquartered in Chicago, my former USA home town. They followed the pioneering lead of such international giants as Tata Consultancy Services (India), who in 2007 announced one of the largest outsourcing initiatives in Latin America, committing $140 million with Ecuador’s largest bank, Banco Pichincha. In relocating a part of their operations to Quito, Ecuador, the leadership at ThoughtWorks noted that while Ecuador may be a more diminutive country of only 15 million people, they have an extremely well-trained engineering workforce, which is essential for the open source software business market that represents ThoughtWorks’ core consulting enterprise.
Citing Ecuador’s exceptional university system, especially in Quito and Guayaquil, ThoughtWorks leadership dubbed Ecuador as having “…one of the best computer science programs in all of Latin America.” Ecuador was considered a great source to hire local talent, but also identified the country as an expat base, from which a more global talent pool could also be mined.
An additional advantage, cited by the leadership team of ThoughtWorks, is that Quito and Chicago have aligning time zones, making it a much more attractive option than say an Asian or European location. An exceptional alignment of work schedule time zones and a ready market of trained professionals, who well understand how ThoughtWorks handles software, made the relocation to Ecuador decision a relatively easy one. A statement by Francisco Martin, the Operations Manager for ThoughtWorks, sums it up perfectly, “We were interested in Ecuador because it is a progressive country, and we are a progressive company…We can accomplish things in Ecuador, because the government is interested in technology. We can collaborate in a way that will benefit the country.”
The partnership with the Ecuadorean government is something ThoughtWorks hopes to continue expanding into the distant future, citing initiatives such as a fully open-source technology model, serving as a collaborative base of operations. Part of Ecuador’s appeal to ThoughtWorks was its commitment to open source software, with the national government acting as the largest IT contractor in Ecuador, while being heavily reliant on open source. In fact, earlier this year ThoughtWorks promoted an event called Café Ágil Ecuador, in which local engineers familiar with open source technology were invited to become more knowledgable about the company. There were 120 attendees, with 60 of them invited to enter the quite intense and exclusive hiring process. From the pool of 60 candidates, ThoughtWorks hired six, making it a thoroughly successful event.
Perhaps ThoughtWorks is also eyeing the dramatic new Yachay City of Knowledge project, to be located an easy travel distance outside of Quito. With Yachay modeled after Silicon Valley and promising a symbiotic, work, study and live environment, ThoughtWorks has well positioned themselves to integrate with Ecuador’s growing technology focus.
Recognizing that Ecuador has strict labor laws intended to protect contract labor in the outsourcing industry and to ensure companies pay into the social security program, ThoughtWorks will rely on full-time employees. ThoughtWorks has taken the initiative to create a company based in Ecuador and is establishing formal employee relationships, with a strong management presence. This creates a win-win-win scenario for ThoughtWorks, the Ecuadorean labor market and the government of Ecuador.
However, this should be not be viewed as wholly Ecuador-centric. The growing wave of multinational companies, as well as small to mid-sized foreign headquartered companies, which are entering the job market in Ecuador, means that expats seeking employment in Ecuador now have a more vibrant job market resource, with skill and language sets more amenable to a foreign trained employee or manager. In fact, leadership at ThoughtWorks notes that while being fluently bilingual in English is not essential for all employee positions, “…bilingualism would be a necessity for project managers working with clients.” For many expats coming from countries with a diminishing job base, it may well be worth considering a country, like Ecuador, in full economic and employment expansion mode.