Iffi Wahla, CEO and Co-Founder of global hiring platform Edge, discusses how hiring a global virtual workforce can close the skills gap.

Ask any senior business leader what one of their main challenges is and they will undoubtedly mention finding the right expertise for their business. This issue is particularly acute in the tech industry with, according to the FT, 42% of startups reporting an absence of the right talent to meet their needs. It’s a serious problem which pushes up costs, inhibits growth and damages business resilience. If you drill down further into the challenge you will find that certain subsectors of tech face an even greater skills shortage with the health tech industry leading the way.

Solving the skills gap will require massive systemic change including huge upskilling programs and a reform of education to encourage more people into STEM subjects. This is obviously not going to happen any time soon, so the question for many health techs is what can they do now to find solutions to their own talent shortages?

The answer could be found in fully embracing modern working practices – particularly the advent of global remote workforces. There are huge untapped reserves of talent in areas such as Latin America, Africa and the subcontinent that, with the right strategy, can more than make up the shortfall in many western countries.

Case Study: Latin America

Let’s examine Latin America specifically. According to software developer N-iX, there are currently two million people working in the tech industry with 50 companies at unicorn status. Looking more broadly at the economy, Statista reported in 2023 there are approximately 500,000 software developers in Brazil, Mexico has around 220,000 and Argentina totals 115,000. While concrete figures on the number of data scientists are harder to come by, research by Coursera, shows that a number of Latin American countries are leading the way in training the next generation of specialists.

The report found that Latin American students are 2.4 times more likely to invest in data science skills and technology skills such as programming principles than the global average. 20% of Mexican college graduates have relevant engineering degrees, amounting to over 110,000 per year, far in excess of the U.S. Nearly every metric points towards Latin America’s tech scene thriving, powered by a wave of young technical specialists.

As many people would already know, the cost of living in Latin America, Africa and the subcontinent is generally substantially lower than western nations. While the tech industry is on a clear upward trajectory in these regions, it is still, compared to the population size, fairly small. Indeed, the unemployment rate is 32% in South Africa, 8.2% in Brazil, India and Chile, and 6.5% in Peru and Pakistan. With the exception of South Africa, these are not eye watering numbers but they point to a region that has an excess of affordable talent but not necessarily the jobs to meet demand.

Talent Without Borders

For businesses there’s a clear opportunity to look seriously at these regions to tactically recruit at all levels – from back office, administrative and data entry functions through to developers, analysts and genetics experts. The key is to leverage the ecosystem of technology providers that have grown up over the past decade (and been supercharged by the pandemic) that have made this process as seamless as possible. Communication, monitoring, productivity and engagement tools are now readily accessible and affordable. So too are the recruitment and management platforms that can enable a variety of different types of working relationships – from full time staff, to consultants and project based engagements.

The mentality of many workers has also radically changed over the past few years which means creating a remote or fully virtual workforce is much more achievable. People no longer expect all their colleagues to be in office, nor is having a team spread out across the world only the preserve of global corporations. There are numerous examples of successful startups – right across the industry – that have created teams numbering in the hundreds that have never had a head office or even all met in person.

However, recruiting and managing a more remote workforce does have some pitfalls that require a thoughtful strategy to avoid. Chief among them is keeping everyone engaged, happy and productive. This means instilling your company’s culture and treating every team member – no matter the nature of their employment or location – as equals. It also may involve reviewing your management practices to ensure that the way you communicate, assess and engage with remote workers adapts accordingly.

Step by Step

Creating a fully optimised workforce strategy doesn’t mean throwing out everything and starting again. A safer, less disruptive approach is to create a plan with achievable, incremental steps that evolves your team into a structure and format that best suits your current and future needs. To do this, consider the following:

  • Audit your team’s expertise and management structure to determine potential cost-efficiencies, skill gaps, single points of failure and bottlenecks. Align this with your commercial strategy and client feedback.
  • Review your tech stack to identify whether you have the tools and processes that fully enable remote and hybrid working. Pay particular attention to employee onboarding, engagement, accountability and productivity.
  • Consult with your team – what is the optimum working model for each employee. Consider putting every option on the table – transitioning to consulting, part-time, fully remote etc…
  • Begin experimenting with new working practices. For example, a pilot project where administrative and other back office functions are executed by virtual workers can be a safe way to get started.
  • Talk to businesses that offer remote working recruitment support to get a better idea of the talent out there and how you could being hiring from different countries.
  • Review, analyse and optimise – keep track of the impact of your new structure as you make changes and don’t be afraid to change course if the results don’t meet your expectations. Constant monitoring can identify weak points such as an incomplete onboarding process or the need to enhance management practices

In closing, my message for business leaders is pretty straightforward – rather than seeing time and resources ebb away in the hunt for much needed local talent – think globally. Regions, like Latin America, which have long been neglected by most western tech companies, are primed to come to the rescue. New technology and working practices means that this is achievable for a business of any size and it could be the key to unlocking the growth potential of your company.

CEO and Co-Founder at Edge

Iffi co-founded global HR recruitment platform Edge in 2020, which connects companies with high-quality, reliable full-time talent from around the world.

A Pakistani-American entrepreneur, he has travelled extensively and, along with his co-founder, encountered hundreds of remarkable individuals whose ambitions were limited by their local economies. This experience was behind the creation of the Edge Platform Marketplace, with a mission of democratising access to fair wages and jobs around the world, whilst also giving businesses access to qualified professionals around the globe, 99.5% of whom are college graduates.

Before setting up Edge, Iffi founded successful insurance agency Provence in 2015, which had a completely remote team.