With nearly 200 countries across the globe comprised of roughly 7.3 billion people, business leaders are not devoid of workers. However, for many businesses and industries, certain countries’ talent pools are a better fit than others. And while most leaders are well informed on the talent scope of most developed markets, what other, unsuspecting countries should they consider?
A country’s strong gross domestic product, or GDP, and a large talent market are top-of-mind indicators for executives looking to enter new territory or source workers from a new part of the world. While many countries and territories were considered for this article, Talent Economy chose to include Poland, Singapore and Egypt for their large talent pools, geographic dispersion and growing gross domestic products. Data cited throughout this story comes from the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s “The World Factbook.”
Postcommunist Poland is a culture that thrives on structure. Over the past two decades, this cultural focus contributed to the creation of a strong business process outsourcing and shared services industry, as well as talent with finance and accounting expertise. “What follows on from that, naturally, has been that sort of process knowledge and technology knowledge combined [that] plays really well into the future of automation,” said David Poole, CEO of Symphony Ventures, a digital transformation consultancy based in London with an office in Kraków, Poland.
Poland’s workforce of about 17.8 million people is a well-educated group with a 99.8 percent literacy rate. A strong education system and emphasis on linguistics has led many of the country’s citizens to learn a variety of Northern European languages, making many of them expert linguists.
In 2012, 41 percent of the country’s 25- to 34-year-olds attained a university-level education, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and 53 percent of its young people are expected to complete their university education. People in Poland are especially well educated in areas of information technology, engineering, economics, finance, natural sciences and medical sciences, according to Witold Orlowski, rector of the Vistula University in Warsaw, Poland, and chief economic adviser for PwC in Poland. “Poles are quite well educated and keen to work hard for their individual success,” Orlowski said. “However, they should show even more entrepreneurial skills, rather than accepting the relatively ‘safe’ career at the big corporations.” As a society, Poles aren’t keen on social capital, so areas for improvement in education include developing skills around effective teamwork and entrepreneurship, Orlowski said.
Despite this well-educated talent market, countrywide unemployment stood at 9.6 percent in 2016. There are many constraints on companies looking to hire, Symphony Ventures’ Poole said, including strict rules around hours worked (no more than 48 per week), intellectual property, at least 20 days of annual leave, 26 weeks of parental leave at 60 percent of salary and benefits while sick. “I think from the employers’ perspective, it’s quite tedious to employ groups of people there.” Entrepreneurship also has been a slow build. “Generally speaking, a lot of the culture in Poland has not been around creativity and not been around creating things from scratch. It’s been around doing things according to the rules,” Poole said.
Some of the lag in creativity is changing, Poole said, leading to an exciting business environment with an emerging startup scene. According to Startup Poland, there were 2,400 startups in the country in 2015, most working on software-as-a-service models via mobile applications, e-commerce and web services. While this is modest in comparison to Silicon Valley, Forbes magazine predicts that Poland will soon be a major European tech hub.
Furthermore, the country’s growing middle class has sparked development in its marketing and hospitality industries, Poole said. Poland’s GDP has also been strong the past few years, with 2016 growth at 3.1 percent. Finally, the country was one of the few able to avoid recession in 2008-09, when the global financial crisis roiled the world economy.
The Egyptian workforce of nearly 32 million people learn very quickly, according to Adel Beshai, professor of economics and director of graduate program in economics at American University in Cairo, the country’s capital. However, with 27.8 percent of the population living below the poverty line in 2015, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, Egyptians must get creative to survive. “Egyptians show their talent in the sense that necessity is the mother of invention,” Beshai said.
Most of the country’s resources, including its talent, are centered on handicrafts, textiles, marble, steel and cement, meaning that the country is a huge market to corner. Its massive labor force recorded an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent in 2016; GDP growth stood strong at 4.2 percent in 2015 and 3.8 percent in 2016.
The main area where Egypt struggles is literacy, said Nicole Sahin, CEO of Globalization Partners, a global employment services company. According to CIA data, about 74 percent of the country can read; about 20 percent more of the country’s men than women are literate. Primary education enrollment is on the rise, but secondary education enrollment in the 2014-15 school year stood at just 60 percent, according to UNICEF Egypt.
Many who don’t enroll in school live in poverty in rural areas. “The whole economy could improve by improving the access of education to lower-income individuals,” Sahin said, adding that well-educated workers tend to leave Egypt for career opportunities elsewhere.
Beshai believes that with expert outside management, Egypt’s workforce would be able to excel and increase its productivity greatly. “This combined with innate Egyptian talents and innate Egyptian resources, this country will be a heaven for any investor,” Beshai said. They learn fast, they are creative, and they can be easily given hope about more work, exports and income, he added.
In the late 1960s, Singapore began to invest in the semiconductor sector, paving the way for prosperity as the technology market grew exponentially in the decades to follow. Being a relatively open economy also helped the city-state evolve in industries like finance and energy, according to Jack Gao, a program economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a New York City-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on the relationship between finance and the economy.
Although the city-state’s GDP growth stood at just 1.7 percent in 2016, its GDP per capita ranks fifth in the world at $87,100, compared to $57,300 in the U.S. The services sector makes up nearly 84 percent of Singapore’s roughly 3.6-million-person labor force, which boasted a healthy 2.1 percent unemployment rate in 2016.
Education is also strong in Singapore, as the nation has a literacy rate of nearly 97 percent. Furthermore, the city-state excels in education. “A considerable amount of foreign talents were attracted at a relatively early age to Singapore because of education,” Gao said. Business and finance are popular choices for students, and many gain internships early on in their college careers, thus preparing them for the business world. To further prime students for a post-collegiate career, teachers emphasize teamwork, leadership, community work and presentation skills.
There’s also a movement to cultivate entrepreneurs and emulate Silicon Valley, Globalization Partners’ Sahin said. A focus on business, math and science has led to a lack of emphasis on liberal arts, however, so some schools are sending students to the U.S. to study how to think more creatively — a skill it sees as vital in producing more entrepreneurs.
A foreign-friendly talent market also helps attract students who can find well-paying jobs in the city-state after graduation, Gao said. Still, the influence of foreign labor has a big effect on the social fabric of Singapore. Gao said politicians and citizens emphasize the importance of “Singaporeans First,” even going as far to start a political party under the tagline in 2014. “Relatively small and open economies have a canary in a coal mine effect to other parts of the world,” Gao said. Singapore must manage that balance of foreign and native talent very well if they want to keep growing.
Areas for future growth in Singapore include transportation, as ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc. launched its first driverless taxis there in August 2016. Additionally, a cultural industry is emerging, Gao said, with a focus on literature, design and Singaporean food becoming more popular and bringing in revenue via arts-related events. And with the city-state scarce in natural resources, conservation is on the minds of government officials, which has lead to a rise in the clean technology industry.
Lauren Dixon is Talent Economy‘s Associate Editor. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. This story originally appeared as part of the cover package of Talent Economy‘s Summer 2017 quarterly journal. Click here to view the complete digital edition of the issue.