Tunisia is known for having a large number of available and highly qualified professionals in the ICT sector, with an estimated 10,000 IT engineers graduating each year. Thanks to this, the country has become a well-known offshoring centre for many foreign ICT companies. Additionally, in an attempt to curb unemployment among young Tunisian graduates, the country is beginning to open up its business environment to local ICT start-ups and encourage entrepreneurship.
Tunisia’s IT workforce is known for its quality in the form of high-level training and qualifications. An increasing amount of ICT students are trained in private universities (see Education chapter), and benefit from specialised courses and close proximity to sector businesses. “There has been a proliferation of private universities, and companies are trying to be closer and more present during the students’ training,” Omar Triki, head of marketing for the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe at Sopra HR, told OBG.
In addition to a selection of qualified IT graduates, ICT companies setting up shop in Tunisia have the opportunity to cut technical support costs with business process outsourcing. The salary of a recently graduated engineer, for instance, is an estimated $13,000 per year, and the fall in the value of the local currency has made the country even more competitive and attractive as an offshore ICT platform. Nevertheless, high numbers of recent university graduates remain unemployed across the country. To help address this, initiatives such as Smart Tunisia have been launched to promote IT innovation and curb rising rates of graduate unemployment.
The Smart Tunisia programme was officially launched in November 2015, funded through a public-private partnership in which the Tunisian government plans to invest $500m over the next five years. The programme aims to revitalise the offshoring sector and create up to 50,000 new IT jobs by 2020 by enticing investors to settle and develop in Tunisia. It offers a combination of job creation subsidies, and financial aid for certification and registration purposes. As of July 2016 the programme had already created 4000 jobs and had secured the support of international IT firms such as Ericsson, Ardia, SWC and Vermeg – giving Tunisia’s offshoring sector a much-needed boost amid growing international competition from other global outsourcing centres such as India.
In addition to promoting off-shoring, Tunisia is looking to support its homegrown entrepreneurial spirit, namely through private engineering school ESPRIT and its start-up incubator.
Tunisia also organises start-up competitions in-country, with the winners invited to international competition stages. Seedstars World, for instance, hosted its first-ever event in Tunisia in May 2016, inviting 14 start-ups to pitch their projects for a chance to be invited to the international finals and win up to $1m.
The different start-ups that competed in the event worked on technologies such as online survey platforms; headhunting and online recruiting platforms; and mobile business platforms; as well as products such as car accident detection software and interactive mobile gaming tools. The winning Tunisian team was invited to join the international finals, which took place in April 2017 in Switzerland.
In addition to fostering domestic talent and aiding graduate recruitment, the country has also invested in technology parks and working spaces to enable foreign IT companies to develop offshoring sites in Tunisia, such as call centres and other business process outsourcing offices. Although there is currently little public financial support for the start-up sphere, private institutions have launched their own incubators to fund and encourage young local innovators.
As private higher education and other means of private sector assistance develop, the government must increase its support of such initiatives to truly enable innovative projects to spread across the country, and not solely rely on private incubators located in Tunis.
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