Merchants and City of Cape Town partnerships prepares SA youth for 4IR
In October 2020, the City of Cape Town (COCT) announced that it would partner with the National Skills Fund as well as the BPO industry at large to fund training for candidates in the BPO sector. As a leading industry player in the Western Cape, Merchants has joined the COCT in its commitment to build BPO skills at a grassroots level.
“Through this partnership, Merchants welcomes unemployed, young South Africans, from all walks of life to an eight-week base training course, that covers the basics of working in a contact centre – and introduces them to the contact centre environment, in collaboration with our client, iiNet,” explains Bertus Kapp, Principal Business Unit Head for iiNet at Merchants. iiNet is a leading Australia-based ISP, and Merchants services its customers from South Africa specifically, covering extended time zones as part of its agreement.
Over the last 4 months, Merchants and iiNet have welcomed four groups of 15 individuals to an eight-week training course that covers key BPO-related skills such as product training, trouble shooting and billing. The course also focuses on building skills around customer experience, active listening, and problem solving – all of which are important skills as the country moves toward the 4IR.
The WEF’s Future of Jobs report looked at the most important skills for the 4IR based on the insights of executives from top global businesses. Included in the list were: Complex problem solving, critical thinking, co-ordinating with others, judgement and decision making, service orientation and negotiation. These skills are all seen as critical for those working as contact centre agents and are highlighted as part of agent training and experience programmes.
Kapp explains that the candidates are largely between the ages of 23 and 25, many without previous contact centre experience. Candidates are required to pass assessments throughout the training, in order to qualify to move through to on the job (OTJ) training, in which a coach is assigned to groups of four students to assist them through three weeks of in-call training. It is through this training that the skills developed in the first few weeks of training are honed in a practical environment, before the students graduate into the live contact centre environment.
It is at this stage that students are then offered a 12-month learnership, in which they continue to build their portfolio of evidence, and further develop their skills. “The candidate retention rate has been very positive, at 88%, rising into the high 90’s once candidates move through to the OTJ training. Merchants is proud to be part of this drive to build critical BPO skills and empower young South Africans with tomorrow’s skills today,” says Kapp. “At this stage, we have successfully placed 62 South Africans into 12 month learnerships.”
Zain Patel, Merchants SA Managing Director, explains that the business is focused on building local ICT and digital capabilities, both from a service and end-user perspective, as this is likely to be the fastest growing area for job creation from businesses servicing global customers, from Australia to North America.
“We are delighted to participate in such an important initiative alongside local government to create a foundation for local youth seeking to gain skills and meaningful employment. We have long recognised that South Africa is home to an incredibly talented and enthusiastic talent pool. Given the right opportunities, these individuals can deliver high-quality, complex service offerings to both local and international enterprises seeking to gain a competitive edge,” concludes Patel.