At present, youth unemployment in South Africa stands at around 62.1%. This is significantly higher than the national average. One of South Africa’s major socio-economic challenges, the impact of high youth unemployment levels are devastating and include higher poverty and crime rates, as well as increased social exclusion, inequality and social instability.
The business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is an example of an industry already making an impact. In 2021, the Annual Front Office Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Omnibus Survey, ranked South Africa first in the world as a destination for BPO. And recently, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) described the BPO sector as a priority sector because of the job opportunities and the investment potential it creates. The DTI also flagged the industry as being critical to increasing youth employment.
According to Peter Andrew, MD of CCI South Africa, the BPO industry provides a space where young people with relatively low education levels can enter the job market. And they can gain valuable experience and get training while also earning a full-time income. “For us, it’s about attitude, not aptitude because one can ultimately train an individual up so that they have the skills needed to do the job.” But given how competitive the industry is, it can be difficult retain people, he acknowledges.
So, what can the BPO industry do to ensure that the young people that join their workforce stick around?
Andrew and his colleague, Vusani Ntini, chief people officer at CCI SA, highlight the following.
Meet their needs
If you’re working with young people, you need to cater to the needs and preferences of these young employees, says Ntini. For example, by providing access to different amenities – like canteens, medical facilities and even hair salons and sporting facilities – you can create an environment where young employees don’t have to worry about anything other than doing their job and doing it well. As a business, you need to meet your employees where they are. We have also made a concerted effort to situate their offices in locations that are most convenient for the majority of their workforce, adds Andrew. “A good work environment is critical. This is why we have our centres in areas with some of the highest cost per square metre because we understand how important it is to ensure our teams have easy access to work.”
CCI employs between 9 000 and 10 000 people; around 90% of whom come into the business with no experience whatsoever. Around the same percentage are in their early 20s. If you are employing people straight out of school, you have to be willing to train them, outlines Ntini. “To make sure our employees are ready for the job, we provide them with work readiness training because they know very little about work environments. We offer them guidance around how to behave in an office environment and also help them to better manage their time,” Ntini states.
Once they’ve made it through this training, employees undergo product specific training that equips them with everything they need for formal employment as a call centre agent. They even give them the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned. “So before we even talk about offering anyone employment, we’ve invested almost two months’ worth of our time training these youngsters so that they can do a good job.” And it doesn’t stop there, Ntini notes. Once they are employed, there are so many opportunities for them to develop further.
Pearl Zikalala serves as proof of how a person can grow and develop at CCI. She started her journey at CareerBox – an NPO founded by the CCI Group to identify and train underprivileged candidates and place them in entry-level digitally enabled jobs. During her time at CCI, she has had the opportunity to build a career, starting as a contact centre agent and progressing through to leadership roles. Today, she is a senior operations manager and is in charge of anywhere between 350 and 450 people. “It has been an amazing journey,” she says. “One that was only made available to me through the leadership training and mentoring provided by CCI.”
Expose them to different areas of the business
Professional development can bolster employees’ confidence at work. Particularly when you are giving people the chance to pursue more specialised skills, says Ntini. “We have quite a few functional areas across our business – from HR and finance to IT – and so we have developed initiatives that are geared towards upskilling people who have an interest in a particular field.” For example, if some of your call centre staff have qualifications in other fields, you could look for opportunities to expose them to different aspects of the business where they can use, and further develop, their existing competencies. Career growth is incredibly important.
Provide coaching, support
This is not an easy job, explains Andrew, so one has to be willing to nurture and support people. “Often this is someone’s first job. Often they are coming from extremely difficult backgrounds. Often they are the breadwinners in their family.” And so we need to support these people and be willing to take the time to understand our employees’ context, he notes. The only way to do so is by giving your employees a voice, adds Ntini. One way to do this is to create platforms where employee get the chance to sit down with executives and can share their opinions, discuss their concerns and make suggestions. When Ntini claims that the sky is the limit in terms of career opportunities he is not exaggerating. Three of CCI’s current EXCO (board) members are people who started their careers answering phones in call centres and now occupy the most senior roles in Africa’s leading BPO.
While the BPO industry is making progress to employ young people, they can’t do it alone. As we celebrate National Youth Day and Youth Month, it is imperative that industry works together with government to develop initiatives that bear fruit. Both the public and private sector must promote youth development and empowerment initiatives with the intention being to upskill our young people so that they have the competencies needed to meet modern market needs.
CCI is South Africa’s biggest BPO providing customer service to international clients from USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Kenya. Their focus on delivering effective communication between businesses and their clients is based on 15 years of experience in the BPO space. Their people-first approach, supported by a focus on technology and exceptional training has led them to the leading position they hold today.
Servicing a variety of high-end clients from differing industries namely telco, airlines, ecommerce, technology, entertainment, insurance, retail, financial services and energy, both locally and internationally, CCI’s primary goal is to delight their clients by providing seamless and uninterrupted customer service experiences.