by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“You aint apply yet.. what you waiting for?” the man asked me. He is an educator , Guyanese born and in full time employment in the United States. He earns supplemental income by tutoring students in English. The tutoring is done over the Internet. His students are in Taiwan. There is a 12 hour time difference so he starts working at 5am some days. Other times he works in the night from 7pm or so. He had visited Guyana recently and managed to conduct his classes though the Internet was slow.
The company provides software in which the tutors connect with the students using audio and video. The company is recruits people who have certified in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) or who are thinking about certifying. I emailed the agency he recommended. I wanted to find out if they recruited people living in Guyana. There has been no reply from the agency.
Karen is an educator living in Guyana. A few years ago, she had also encouraged me to join up with an essay writing service. She had a full time job but needed additional income. She registered with an agency based in the United Kingdom. The agency would send her topics for her to research and develop into essays. There would be other essays which needed editing. Apparently, there are many people who pay others to write and/or edit their essays and other documents. Karen did work for about a year with the agency. Sometimes, she subcontracted a friend. She stopped when a new job took up more of her time.
Joshua Kissoon provides IT services. The recent economic downturn in Guyana resulted in a reduction of clients in Guyana. He decided to register with Upwork.com as he was keen to pursue work in his field rather than have to take up other work. Joshua managed to secure a contract which requires him to work a full work week. The work requires him to sign in and be connected for at least two hours every day . He can work offline and then submit work afterwards. The company allows him some flexibility with the scheduling of the hours which is especially useful in the event the Internet goes down or there are electricity problems.
The work done by the ESL teacher, Karen and Joshua is made possible through developments of information and communication technologies. They are participating in what one writer refers to as the ‘Gig economy‘
The World Bank published a report in June 2015 titled “The Global Opportunity of online outsourcing”. The authors propose a definition of online outsourcing as :- “The contracting of third‐party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet‐based marketplaces or platforms. These technology‐mediated channels allow clients to outsource their paid work to a large, distributed, global labour pool of remote workers, to enable performance, coordination, quality control, delivery, and payment of such services online. “
The technology-mediated channels are usually web platforms which allow job-seekers and potential employers to create profiles and assignments. Some agencies do the matching or provide ‘managed services’, while others allow job-seekers to apply for the work or ‘open services’. Some of the companies provide online training and orientation opportunities. The Government of Malaysia has created eRezeki (translated to eLivelihood). The platform allows persons to register. The Government also has created ‘pusat rezeki’ or centres where people can access the platform, and also participate in training to enable them to participate as Digital Workers.
The kind of work which has been available for online outsourcing usually requires high skill levels. The jobs tend to relate to computer programming, web development, graphics design, writing and content managementvideo and audio editing, management of IT infrastructure, online marketing and accounting. There are some jobs which might require basic IT literacy skills along with skills in other fields. These jobs might relate to areas such as research, data entry, transcription services and text conversion from digitised images, and online marketing.
The eRezeki platform in Malaysia provides for three work categories. These categories cover the range of possibilities for connecting workers with prospective clients. They are :-
Digital microtasks/ Microwork – which covers some of tasks requiring basic IT literacy skills
Digital Work – which covers the tasks which requires high skill levels
Digitally enabled work – work which is initiated through a contact on the platform, but completed offline. This could related to provision of services such as construction, cleaning, cooking, supporting events, care-giving, etc. .
Guyana’s Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency used to have a website to match employers with job seekers. The website is no longer active.
Guyana has experience with the call-centre industry and business process outsourcing. There is news recently that one company intends to increase employment from 2000 to 3000 workers.
Online outsourcing (OO) tends to include individual or small groups of individuals working from home or other locations where there is good Internet and reliable electricity.
Some OO companies recruit from different countries around the world. Other companies tend to restrict themselves to North America. In large countries, the ‘remote’ could mean connecting across different regions, cities and towns. In Guyana for example, there might be a tutor in Essequibo providing services to students in Georgetown. The interaction could be for a set number of hours for particular topics for example, or help with particular assignments. I understand that there are some lessons teachers who supplemented their face to face classes with remote interactions using Skype. There are some entrepreneurs who are apparently also already doing assignments and tasks for students. There has not been much discussion of the ethics of this kind of education entrepreneurship.
Joshua Kissoon had to provide a portfolio of work online. He sent over 30 applications, each one tailored for the job. He received 6 offers. He has also contracted two other persons , from India and Russia, to help him learn a new technology.
Karen said it took some time before she had her first assignment. Each assignment helped to build up her profile. She did not have direct contact with the students requesting the services. The ESL company from Taiwan interviews applicants.
There are concerns about the protection of workers, especially with contracts across borders. The trends seem to indicate that people in developing countries would not pursue online outsourcing for all of their income.
Guyanese who wish to pursue online outsourcing opportunities would have to deal with the limited options for receiving payments. Karen was able to negotiate with the essay writing agency to send her payments via Western Union. In order to avoid per transaction charges, she had to accumulate payments. She had to bear the charges. Joshua Kissoon has to use Paypal. He is exploring using Payoneer to access cash. He is concerned about the losses due to the transaction and exchange losses and will consider things like negotiating payments via Paypal with vendors.
The dilemma for micro-workers is that cost of receiving micro-payments reduces the significance of the earnings.
What can the Government of Guyana do?
The authors of the Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing report recommend that Governments could broadly :-
“..enact positive policies that enable and promote the growth of the OO industry; and
remove legislative and regulatory barriers that inhibit the growth of the OO industry..”
Some of the specific actions they recommend include developing the workforce, creating the infrastructure and identifying and developing target markets.
The Government has increased the ICT infrastructure and the intended liberalisation of the telecoms sector is expected to improve the access to the Internet. The challenge though, is that while the Ministry of Public Telecommunications provide the infrastructures, it is up to the other Government programmes to make use of the infrastructure. An ICT Hub, is just that.. and would only be more useful if it is turned into a ‘Job/work centre’ for example.
The call centres apparently use our ‘English’ as a resource. The Government might want to support the certification of persons who want to acquire the English as a Second Language certifications.
Joshua Kissoon said that he has been able to work with the Internet and to manage with the fluctuating quality. The difficulty for him is ensuring a reliable power supply as he loses out every time there is blackout. He hopes to invest in solar power for his work space. There might be other persons who have to make similar considerations if they want to work from home. There is not much publicity available about Government incentives to pursue solar and other forms of energy.
The Guyanese opportunity for online outsourcing seems possible. There is a need to do some more analysis and to explore especially, a system for online micro-payments.
Karen is from Linden. She hopes that the affordable and good quality Internet will reach the area where her house is located. She looks froward to the day when she could return home and pursue the remote working opportunities.
(The internet (GTT) went down while I was writing this article. The article was delayed as a result )
Update 12 June , 2017 : Two persons confirmed that the Payoneer card works in Guyana.
Dr Rosh Khan also told me that Xoom is working in Guyana to allow cash payment.