The BPO sector is critical to increasing youth employment
“While some may argue contact and call centres are dying due to technological advancements and not considered an effective means to create long-term careers, this is not necessarily the case as we have seen people build long-term careers in our organisation.”
The Department of Trade and Industry continues to acknowledge the importance of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in creating jobs, stimulating foreign direct investment in the sector and has recently announced a revised Global Business Services incentive for the sector. In 2017 alone, contact centres created approximately 228 600 jobs, according to the 2018 BPESA Business Process Services Key Indicator Report. As a leading customer management partner operating in the BPO industry, Merchants falls within this sector critical to increase youth employment.
The latest Statistics South Africa figures show a 22,000 jobs increase in the country’s non-agricultural formal sector, in the first quarter of 2019. However, South African youth are still the most vulnerable in our labour market with the unemployment rate among this age group representing 55,2% of the population, according to Statistics South Africa figures in the first quarter.
“While some may argue contact and call centres are dying due to technological advancements and not considered an effective means to create long-term careers, this is not necessarily the case as we have seen people build long-term careers in our organisation,” says Dr. Sydwell Shikweni, Transformation Director at Merchants.
In addition, he explains that the business requirement to deliver the right customer experience is becoming increasingly necessary, as people still want to interact with people and use technology as an enabler to deliver effective customer experience. Customers want great products and are willing to pay premium prices for great service experiences – up to 16%, according to PwC.
“Our business has also committed to ensuring 40% of the people we employ are made of up of Impact Workers,” explains Dr. Shikweni. Impact Workers are those aged between 18 and 25 years, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are either first-time job seekers or who have been unemployed for a period of 12 months.
Even though the Q1 figures showed an 11,4% increase in the unemployment of young graduates, it is still lower than those with other education levels, indicating the necessity for education as a critical aspect for improving young people’s prospects for seeking and securing employment. It further illustrates the lack of job opportunities available among young people, especially those with little or no work experience and graduate qualifications.
However, access to education and the right to basic education, as set out in Section 29 of the Constitution, is often mired by numerous social and economic challenges the youth faces – resulting in dropouts. “For many young South Africans, factors such as needing to find work to support their families, a lack of funding to continue their education, alcohol and drug addiction, as well as teen pregnancies, prevent them from finishing school,” explains Dr. Shikweni.
Merchants support four schools each year through the Columba Leadership Programme resulting in a total of 115 direct beneficiaries per year and 1 800 indirect beneficiaries. What the programme enables is a 91% retention level of learners staying in school from grades 10 to 12, 75% successfully transition to further studies, work or volunteering and 73% entering formal leadership positions.
Programmes such as these can have positive knock-on effects for communities and the schools too: participant schools report a reduction in disciplinary incidents, absenteeism, improvements in learner behaviour, and rates of school attendance. Educators also testify to being more adept at working collaboratively with learners as partners for change, and learners become accepted as part of the leadership of the school and as role models for their peers. Furthermore, 95% of parents reported a sustained change in their children’s behaviour.
“Through the programme, learners gain insight into how the Merchants business operates and can network with staff from all levels to better understand the advantages of completing their schooling,” notes Dr. Shikweni.
In a recent survey by Trialogue, companies contributed an estimated R9.7 billion towards CSI in South Africa last year, with 92% supporting education. While many organisations are contributing to CSI initiatives, not all are geared towards offering long-term and meaningful employment, especially in an economic environment where the GDP’s contraction is at levels not seen since 2009. “However, by providing our youth with the right foundation through improved education and developing industries, such as BPO, we may just be able to add a few more than 22 000 jobs,” Dr. Shikweni concludes.
Partner today with South Africa’s leading customer management partner who is creating educational and employment opportunities for South African youth.
Merchants won the 2018 Trialogue Strategic CSI Award following its collaboration with Columba Leadership.