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SA’s BPO demand boosts employment opportunity

With South Africa recording its highest ever unemployment rate of 32.5%, with youth and women especially affected, there needs to be a renewed commitment toward impact sourcing and support of growth industries in order to nurture long-term economic growth and development in the country.

Not only did the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector show an improvement over the past year, it is one of the few industries that offer entry-level candidates a chance of employment and career advancement. This makes it an ideal starting point for youth and women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It’s one of the few industries where someone without a formal qualification can progress from call centre agent to team leader or operations manager in the span of a year.  It’s not all about sales either – the industry similarly provides an entry to roles for instance in IT, human resources and finance.

The challenge however, is to bridge the gap between study and the workplace, and to empower youth and women from disadvantaged backgrounds with skills and capabilities needed to excel in a work environment, and confidently interact with colleagues and customers.

Work readiness programmes, such as that from CareerBox, a Mandela Legacy partner, equip people with soft and technical skills needed to thrive. This includes communication, time management, accountability, teamwork, conflict management, critical thinking and problem solving, and more. 

The training programme is more than just a formality, and there needs to be a visible impact between when candidates arrive, and when they finish the programme, knowing full well that this first step can lead to a lifetime of opportunities and growth. 

This has seen us attract sponsorship from international media and telecoms organisations who see Africa as key going forward, and we need similar enthusiasm from local businesses. Since August last year, CareerBox has facilitated over 3000 job placements for youth and women at its anchor client CCI South Africa, the largest international contact centre operator in the country. 

Lowering barriers to entry

And, this is just for one company in the BPO industry. By making impact sourcing a priority and committing to invest in businesses and the public sector in South Africa we can make a meaningful difference in tackling the alarming 60% unemployment rate that is prevalent among young people between the ages of 18 and 34.

However, given the disadvantaged background that many of these candidates come from, a concerted and joint effort has to be made to go beyond just providing access to job opportunities, and lowering barriers to employment across the board. 

While the government has recognised the role of the industry in bringing foreign investment and creating jobs, we need to continue to work together in pursuing policies that will support the further growth of the BPO sector in Africa.

Private corporations have a role to play in tackling the high cost of internet connectivity (think of zero-rated sites for employment opportunities), lack of access to reliable transport (free or subsidised ride hailing to your interview), the affordability of formal clothing (creating a clothing bank for candidates) and more.

These ‘hand-ups’ rather than ‘handouts’ can play a crucial role in creating sustainable career opportunities for the country’s disadvantaged youth and women, with each employee having the ability to positively impact additional people around them, helping contribute to further growth.

According to Nomkhosi Maphumulo, a participant in CareerBox’s work readiness programme, the holistic programme focused on the skills she felt was important in shaping her into the professional she aspired to be. “There are a lot of young people like myself who have jobs because of the work that is being done by CareerBox, with the support of partners like Jobs Fund. The support has given me an opportunity to create a foundation for my future – giving me assurance that I have a shot at a solid life.”

Numerous benefits for business

It’s not just a tick-box exercise for companies either. Working with the Rockefeller Foundation, CareerBox was able to visibly demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of impact sourcing, as well as dispel misconceptions that the practice would result in increased costs or reduced workforce productivity – or both.

In fact, the study showed that businesses stood to benefit immensely from impact sourcing, as it provides them with the ability to take advantage of a large and untapped pool of talent, while playing a role in their upliftment led to a higher motivated workforce with lower attrition rates than traditional BPO employees.

In addition, companies that invest in training youth and women from disadvantaged backgrounds stand to benefit financially from the numerous grants provided by the South African government.

And, industry opportunities are likely to grow as more companies turn to digital to mitigate against the pandemic restrictions – and in turn drive the need for more BPO providers to service their customers. Given the low barriers to entry, it is an opportunity that South African businesses and government cannot afford to let slip.

By Lizelle Strydom, Managing Director, CareerBox.

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