August 17, 2009
Egypt as Multilingual Outsourcing Destination, Well I'll be bugered
Frankly given my experience with Egyptian non-mastery of accents, of course anecdote I must confess, this FT.com arty Egypt invests in outsourcing industry raised me eyebrows. Nevertheless it appears to be working, doubtless for reasons similar to why the Tunisian and Moroccan outsourcing industries have worked - a pool of otherwise unemployable university graduates with useless degrees, but reasonable language skills. If one is willing to train them up (which is not such a bad option given the way university tracking works in most of MENA, there may well be among the French and English Literature students perfectly fine IT Response Tele-Monkies or Tel-Services Monkies who merely did not have the cash to go for private coursework (of suspect quality anyway). Of course, the flip side to this is that the depth of the pool of talent is not that great, and if one does not price in the training, bad results will happen.
Ms Farouk, a university student, works for Ameco Tech, a sales and marketing company that provides multilingual outsourcing services to clients in the US and Europe. She is one of about 580 people employed by the company, which established Egypt’s first international call centre in 2002.
Since then, offshoring has become a fast expanding industry in Egypt. Realising the job-creation potential, the Egyptian government has been promoting and establishing the country as an outsourcing centre. The services offered include telemarketing, technical support, software testing and back-office functions.
With 15,000 jobs, Egypt remains a long way from rivalling India or the Philippines in the size of its industry. But, according to a report in May by AT Kearney, the management consultants, it is one of the 10 most desirable locations for outsourcing. AT Kearney ranked Egypt sixth – above the Philippines – in an index based on financial attractiveness, availability of people and skills, and business environment.
“In terms of price, Egypt is similar to India and the Philippines,” says Wasseem Boraie, chief operating officer of Ameco Tech. “But in Egypt we spend more on training our agents due to the type of assignments we take on and it creates a dual benefit – a high commitment level from both clients and staff.”
He also praises the government’s investment in “an internet backbone that is very fibre rich”, providing a sturdy infrastructure for the industry.
International corporations that outsource in Egypt include Infosys, Orange, Vodaphone, Microsoft and Wipro.
Industry practitioners such as Mr Boraie and others cite the availability of multilingual operators who can speak without a pronounced foreign accent as one of Egypt’s strongest advantages.
Emphasis added. This does boggle me though. Maybe the Engineers I dealt with simply couldn't be bothered, but they all spoke English with a pronounced Egyptian accent. In fact, they all spoke EVERYTHING (even proper Arabic) with a pronounced Egyptian accent. (I did take some wee joy in my Leb colleague of American education putting them down. Horrible really, taking the joy, but .....)
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With all due respect to the many brilliant exceptions from my rule, I have found Egyptians to be the worst speakers of everything anywhere in the Middle East, including Fusha Arabic. I suppose it's some combination of the country being really big and really poor.
Posted by: alle at August 17, 2009 06:57 PM
On the other hand, with 80+ millions, even if they are (as I think) among the worst in the region, sheer numbers will produce reasonable resources, even if tiny as percentage.
And you're right, Egyptians are generally indifferent speakers of Fusha - although oddly enough can write well enough. No doubt the Umm ad-Dunya effect.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 17, 2009 07:23 PM
I'm currently hiring (IT) and found myself doing a conscient effort not to dismiss Arab resumes right away. It looks like my inference brainchip built a scheme here.
Cause: past and current experience. Ex Lebanese or Western Arabs, Arab engineers need to be micromanaged to a point where they're just not a profitable option. The prevalent understanding of skills seems about dry technical data (not knowledge) exclusively. It looks like their education disables any critical thinking. I'd rather have someone who's average on tech aspects but who 1) understands business stakes to some extent 2) can take at least some basic decisions concerning their own work.
So, there still is a long way to go before they can seriously compete on OO on anything that's not low tech. Language or not.
At least when Egyptians speak English is is recognizable as English, can't say that for any of the others I have had the misfortune of being out-sourced to. They do not seem to be as stiff and inflexible either, they can go back over particular points without having to repeat their script from the beginning. Remember that Egyptians are NOT Arabs the same way Indians are not Brits. Just because they were colonized by Arabs does not make them Arab, they still have a different, unique culture.
Posted by: Candide at August 19, 2009 12:59 AM
Egyptians are every bit as bloody Arab as the next non-Arabian peninsular Arab. Spare me the precious idiocy. Egypt has Arabised and been the centre of Arabic Lang. culture for a thousand years, not in any way similar to India.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 19, 2009 01:06 PM
Egyptians as non-Arabs is a new one to me. (I guess maybe I'd had some awareness of it in fringe parts of the Coptic community, but really not even there.)
Posted by: Tom Scudder at August 20, 2009 08:21 PM
Well, Tom, we Egyptians are different from the rest of them Arabs you know. Disassociating myself from them Arabs allows me to cope with my deep inferiority complex. It helps me have hope I'll get that recognition I'm craving for which I'll never get in my lifetime as an Arab. Since my shitty state is less reviled than the rest of them in the region, I may stand more chances in my bubble world by pimping it as somewhat unique and more enlightened.