Pakistan’s startup boom has sparked a ‘talent war’
In the spring of 2021, Qatar-born edtech startup Stellic decided to hire an engineering manager in Pakistan. The company used LinkedIn and enlisted the services of two recruitment agencies to find a candidate. Ten months later, however, the role is still open. “We tried different channels but couldn’t find the right candidate,” said Sabih Bin Wasi, Founder and CEO of Stellic. Rest of the world.
Stellic’s struggle reflects a general trend in Pakistan’s tech industry, where companies – startups as well as traditional IT companies – are struggling to attract the right talent. The tech boom of recent years has created a severe shortage of skilled tech labor in the world’s fifth most populous country. Experts say the industry needs to find innovative ways to quickly overcome the shortage if it is to continue its impressive growth.
Pakistan’s IT exports grew at a compound annual growth rate of 17.8% between fiscal year 2016 (July-June) and fiscal year 2021. The country’s tech startups raised a record $365 million in 2021 and have already banked at least $223 million in less than five months. of 2022.
“There is literally a talent war going on these days,” said Salman Shahid, CEO of recruitment startup Kamayi. Rest of the world. “The situation may have been worst for local software companies, which collectively employ about 70% of human resources, as they train new graduates only to lose them to well-funded startups.”
More than 57% of respondents in a survey of 150 Pakistani entrepreneurs in 2021 cited senior management availability as a “major” challenge. “The emergence of a growing number of venture capital-backed startups has led companies to compete for a limited talent pool by offering salaries well above market rate, along with other perks,” said Invest2Innovate, the Pakistani startup accelerator that conducted the survey. report. “The tech sector saw one of the largest pay increases in 2021 as companies handed out higher-than-usual raises to conserve resources.”
After graduating from a prestigious college in Karachi in June 2019, Ali Hasan (name changed) took his first job with a salary of 20,000 rupees ($128 at the time) per month – not much higher than the minimum wage – in a small software company in Karachi. Three days later, he quit, lured by a well-known tech company that offered double the pay. He signed the contract with the second employer, but, a day before joining, he accepted another offer that would pay him three times the original salary. Since graduating, Hasan has participated in “hundreds of interviews” and signed at least seven offer letters, he said. Rest of the world, request anonymity, as he does not want potential future employers to doubt his intentions to commit to an offer.
Just two years later, Hasan was earning 50 times his original salary as a software engineer for a global travel technology company.
This kind of steep career growth was unheard of in Pakistan until a few years ago.
A few years ago, a software engineer in Pakistan who had about three years’ professional experience earned around 150,000 rupees ($1,000 at the time) per month, according to Shahid of Kamayi. Now someone with the same skills and experience earns double. More than 40% of Pakistani tech companies gave raises of more than 30% to their employees in 2021, while 41% of companies gave raises between 15% and 30%, according to a survey by the Pakistan Software Houses Association ([email protected]) . Still, the industry’s annual turnover rate soared to 30% in 2021, from 18% the previous year.
To navigate the situation, Pakistani tech companies are offering unique solutions.
Salesflo, a supply chain software for consumer goods companies, launched a structured graduate program, which recruits recent university graduates and trains them in a range of business roles. “In our first year at Salesflo, we hired four new graduates because that’s all we could afford at the time. But the results were so encouraging that from next year we developed it into a structured graduate program,” said Yasir Suleman Memon, co-founder of Salesflo. Rest of the world.
Salesflo has also chosen an unlikely destination to set up its engineering hub: Hyderabad, the eighth largest city in Pakistan. “There are a lot of wonderful talents in cities like Hyderabad, Multan, Bahawalpur, etc., who have to move to the metropolises to find jobs, so why not take the jobs there?” said Memon.
Several tech companies are also trying to address the talent shortage issue through coding camps and open source courses.
One of the largest export-oriented IT services companies in Pakistan, 10Pearls, has established “10Pearls University”, which offers free training and online courses in different technical disciplines. “To double our IT exports, we need to double our workforce,” said Zeeshan Aftab, CEO and co-founder of 10Pearls. Rest of the world. “To solve this problem, we need to combine several strategies: to provide training in software development to graduates of other engineering disciplines who have not obtained employment, to encourage women with professional qualifications in computer science who have become housewives to re-enter the labor market and adjust current curricula. so that students can enter the labor market after two to three years of study and complete the final year while working.