Emapta Executive Director Inge Zwick on the current state of the outsourcing industry and what lies ahead
The following is an excerpt from a May 2023 podcast by world-leading outsourcing marketplace Outsource Accelerator featuring Emapta, a global outsourcing solutions provider with a rapidly expanding presence in Asia, the Americas and Europe.
Having already spoken with Emapta CEO Tim Vorbach three years ago, it was a good opportunity to catch up, this time with Emapta’s Executive Director Inge Zwick, and get a better sense of the business environment and how the 12-year-old company intends to move forward.
Gallimore: We’ll start with this conversation by digging deep into the recent economic changes that we’ve had – COVID, recessions, the great resignation, staff shortages, and the rise of remote work and outsourcing. What’s the recap of outsourcing in your perspective and how is business as you see things?
Zwick: Whenever I speak to clients and prospects, as an industry, I find us very lucky overall. I think the outsourcing industry has gone from strength to strength even through the challenging times of COVID. The trends that we are seeing this year, the big hype around AI, the economic downturn in certain markets, reduction of team sizes both onshore and offshore is always a topic, yet we see other industries booming and growing. The fact that our industry can serve any business is our biggest strength. Despite turbulent times, there will be continuous growth.
Gallimore: Are you seeing a lot of hardship in the market?
Zwick: Smart businesses make use of difficult times to evaluate outsourcing as a long-term strategy as opposed to years ago. Clients now look into outsourcing from a strategic, long-term perspective. They really look into the location, skill sets, and where to access these skill sets – this is the beauty of the Philippines for the markets that we serve at Emapta. We’re really able to offer amazing talent.
Gallimore: How do you see people’s awareness of outsourcing change?
Zwick: It’s been a huge shift. If I’m going to think about my conversations with clients before the pandemic, especially those who haven’t visited the Philippines or those who are not aware of the Philippines, the first part of the conversation would be selling and explaining the Philippines, its infrastructure, its economic soundness, safety and security of the market – really setting the scene that this is a safe place for people and business. Then we would go into the second part of the conversation, which is the roles they need to be filled and how to achieve that. With the pandemic, with work from home being the reality across all geographies, that has fast forwarded the conversation. [Now] most of the conversations are starting at the second part. A lot of the previous concerns are no longer top concerns or a roadblock but more of a side note. We can really speak on a much more efficient level with prospective clients and how we can go about to helping them.
Gallimore: How do you find staff shortages in the Philippines and is there still a competition for good talent?
Zwick: Yes, markets have become more competitive, certain skills are highly sought after, sometimes there’s a lot of competition, and we’ve also seen salary increases, but are in no way as drastic like in Australia, the US, or the UK. It’s still very manageable here, and of course, the sheer numbers, the talent market is so big here. There is a lot of talent available. We need to make sure to not only find, but also attract, and retain good talent. As employers, we [should] come to the table with a fantastic offer that speaks to [those] talents and make them feel engaged and taken cared of so they would want to work with us. It’s something we’re very passionate about.
Gallimore: People sometimes accuse the outsourcing industry as exploitative and mistreating employees, but it’s the reverse. There’s an arms race of treating people the best you can and getting them an excellent environment through HR support. How do you keep up with this to attract great talent, what are your core strategies for Filipino talent?
Zwick: It really boils down to connecting to the talents and to the people. Really showing the human aspect. It’s not just about filling a seat and have someone out there that does work. It’s really about talking to the candidate, understanding what is important to them, tailoring a package with salary, benefits, work arrangements that meet the candidate needs, and linking them to customers who have their own needs and requirements. So all the needs of each side are considered. With Emapta, what we have done well and focused on, is that customization. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach but understanding the parties and developing solutions based on what works with everyone. One of the ways we are doing this is through our 14 offices. We understood that we need to be closer to our talents. Asking our talents to commute 3 hours one way is certainly not feasible. Opening offices that are close to their homes is critical and has been one of our many success factors.
Gallimore: It’s a big focus on attracting the best talent and retaining them.
Zwick: Absolutely. Education is also another aspect that we need to be doing. When a customer says they want a certain role and explain the skillset that they require, it’s all about understanding these. We do have subject matter experts for all industries to ensure recruiters who are handling these really understand what these mean – what’s the skillset, what are the requirements, and being able to communicate with the customer. This is because sometimes these are not aligned with our available talents. This is why it’s important to set the expectations of the client, which is also critical to success.
Gallimore: Where do you see the main spikes for roles?
Zwick: The demand is literally all areas, but we’ve found an increased interest in sales and support roles. We’ve found an increased interest beyond the traditional customer support roles, which we always knew that the Philippines is a great spot for. We also found more advanced sales and support roles like customer onboarding, especially businesses who are offering software solutions. Even integrating AI, there’s still an element of human interaction in the onboarding experience for customers within their software that needs support that goes beyond the traditional call center type of support. We’ve seen a big increase for back office administration, which has been the backbone of the industry. Thanks to this general openness to work from home, barriers have been broken down. We’ve also seen an increase in demand for accounting and finance roles. There has certainly been a mental barrier in many accounting and finance divisions but with COVID, a whole new demand for these types of roles has opened up.
Gallimore: Do you find sectors who are early adopters of outsourcing? How do you see the roles vs the sectors in the adoption of outsourcing?
Zwick: We find that larger companies are where the adoption or integration of outsource into their existing processes is considered a business risk and it goes through analyses, legal reviews and whatnot so we find the process here to be a longer one versus a small company/startups which are faster in their decision making process and are able to quickly sign on and try out as well. In terms of industries, we really work on so many different industries and I can’t say that one industry is faster than the other, except for some industries that are heavily regulated themselves say for example, the healthcare industry, mortgage industry, if they have compliance and regulations then naturally that startup time for them, again going back to the due diligence requirement will be a bit longer, but for me it’s more of company size and what stage they are at their company life cycle which determines how quick and how open they are to outsourcing.
Gallimore: I sometimes wonder in 20 years time, when all these Gen Zs and millennials are the entrepreneurs, owners, the hiring managers, the decision process they would take would be that global employment would be the default, as this is what is native to them. They have become so used to interacting online, forums, chat forums, Slack, it’s completely digital and I expect that in the next couple of generations, would really reestablish what it means to employ and source globally.
Zwick: It’s already in place. We are seeing it in some of the younger industries like software technology, SAAS providers; they already work that way. When we speak to them, they are like, ‘yeah we have staff in 30 countries, we just want to get a couple of team members in the Philippines,’ so it’s like a whole different conversation. It’s such a different approach to employment, they would still have the same consideration as anyone else, but just that hurdle of even considering the concept is already behind us. It’s about finding the kind of talent they need and integrate them in the best way with those from other 30 countries.
Gallimore: In terms of outsourcing and existing practices, existing traditions, and things that really need to be modernized and brought to speed, how do you see things changing in the industry?
Zwick: I suppose one of the biggest changes in the last one or two years – beginning the pandemic basically, is the concept of work from home, which has then been adapted into the outsourcing industry. Now we’re in this process of transitioning to the new normal which is a combination of all options – work from home, work in the office, hybrid, hot desking. We see that as a big change in the industry both from a customer perspective of being open to new ways or wanting to revert back to the pre-pandemic set up. Also from the candidates’ perspective, preference to work from home is also [from] a need for renewed focus on productivity, engagement, training, camaraderie in the office, so that’s certainly a hot trend at the moment, both from our team members and our customers.
Gallimore: Do you, as a practitioner, have preferences or do you just adapt to what the client prefers?
Zwick: Both. One of our key success factors for Emapta is being able to tailor our solution to every customer’s needs and facilitating different work arrangements is definitely one of them. Especially during this time, it’s also [the] customers seeking our advice, from our perspective, an in-person solution is a good way to go because there are so many aspects in that environment about control, security, access point but also in terms of productivity, support to the team member, and so on, which are easier to control. Having said that, we do not force anyone to come to the office, we don’t propagate only one way, it always has to be optimal and we just have to find the one that fits that right team which is also dependent on the type of skills set, the way team members interact with each other, the way how roles are interdependent vs how independent they are. That’s why there’s no one size fits all, it has to be tailor fit.
Gallimore: US clients have always been a big part of the industry. How do you find talents that adapt to this demand? Do they want to work dayshift or do they work asynchronous, or are they happy with the current schedule? How do you see US-based clients evolve?
Zwick: It has certainly evolved. We are still able to find team members who are willing to work the night shift. Their family lives have been set up that way and that’s how they want to work. In certain roles, as team members get older or if they are looking to access senior talent, there’s definitely a request for day shift. While there’s been a shift, there’s also been a shift with our clients’ flexibility. Clients are now more open to have a couple of hours overlapping with the Ph team. It’s not applicable to all teams, but it has worked really well. There’s enough connection and interaction but less intense. Looking at the global employment trends, this is also why Emapta has expanded to new markets. We’ve open in Colombia and one advantage there is the timezone alignment with the US. While everything is doing well in the Philippines, we do see that trend continuing. We want to explore other options in terms of coverage.
Gallimore: It’s really powerful, isn’t it? You’re really catering to the global talent pool. The clients can work with one partner to provide one infrastructure for employment but have the whole world in their fingertips.
Zwick: We are in the midst of it as we are expanding. Our own teams are becoming more diverse and more global. It’s just so incredible to be with those new teams and you bring new skills sets, perspective, new ways of working with your existing processes. It’s just a real delight to see where it’ll take us.
Gallimore: What are your thoughts on this march with technology?
Zwick: Is there any day when we don’t talk about ChatGPT? It’s such a big topic and for our industry, there’s a lot of anxiety because will ChatGPT replace a lot of our roles? There is a potential risk, but when we speak to our customers, when we see how new technology is being implemented in business, we’re not really worried in the sense that roles might change but the requirement for great talent will remain. What we have seen is the need to implement those technologies into existing processes across industries. It’s not easy and it’s not done overnight. You do great people’s expertise to do that. This is where outsourcing comes in because in outsourcing, you cannot afford great senior resources to help with implementation. Rather than a threat, I suppose this is the evolution of the roles.
Gallimore: Do you get clients asking who want to automate things for them?
Zwick: Almost. We do get clients who are looking for senior project managers, senior product managers who can help with their senior transformation and make it happen for them. This was a skillset that previously was not considered to be outsourced versus now, we are having those conversations almost daily. We have amazing talent who can help with this sort of integrations. This is what the Philippines’ experienced outsourcing talent brings to the table. Having worked for different businesses, having seen and worked within processes for different businesses with outsourcing function their whole careers, many of our team members have a unique ability to learn a new process but also link it back to similar processes they’ve done before and identify the best one and make suggestions on which way is most suitable for the company. Of course, multi-skilled talent also exists in other geographies, but as the outsourcing industry has been so established in the Philippines, we can see that the exposure you can get as a candidate, as a team member in the outsourcing industry, is almost hard to match in other markets. They sometimes have unique skillsets that are extremely valuable in new processes, new ways, and new technologies.
Gallimore: Historically people just thought of the Philippines as for call center agents and virtual assistants but this incredible depth of executive talent, I think a lot of people in the west have overlooked that and don’t expect that from the Philippines, are you finding now that clients are increasingly aware of the top leadership and talent, are now hiring into those positions?
Zwick: I want to say ‘yes’, but it’s not yet a huge demand. I would say it’s growing. The type of companies who are open and are exploring, are the early adaptors, the younger, startup companies or those who already have a very diverse workforce and geography doesn’t matter. It’s certainly a growing number and it’s exciting to see it work and really succeed. It’s always the talent that seals the deal. They usually come back really impressed prompting them to try it out.
Gallimore: What would you say is the magic sauce with Emapta and how would you sum it up with people on how to get in touch?
Zwick: Our ability to customize a solution and make it work for every business into exactly what they need is our biggest strength and the expertise that comes with that. We work with over 600 clients, we have over 6,500 employees just in the Philippines and it’s really our expertise to be doing this for 12 years and counting, that we know we can make businesses grow and we are very passionate about it. If you want to find more about us, please visit www.emapta.com or you can reach me at [email protected].