MONTEGO BAY, St James — CHAIRMAN of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) Yoni Epstein has chided Government for its failure to establish a comprehensive vocational training programme for the booming call centre industry, in a similar vein as the tourism curriculum offered by the HEART Trust/NTA.
" For this sector to grow — and the ministers (of government) are talking 40,000 jobs in the sector and growing the sector by about 2,500 jobs a year — you need a pool of people to pull from in order to be able to hire and provide trainable staff for the companies that are coming into Jamaica," he argued.
"When these (call centre) companies come in they don't hire five or 20 people right off the bat, they hire 200 people. So in many cases it is like a new hotel coming into Jamaica. And HEART Trust does an exceptional job of having trained personnel and providing a pool for the hotel sector".
Over 90,000 persons are directly employed in the tourism sector, while the IT sector currently provides employment for roughly 14,000. But, according to a projection by technology minister Phillip Paulwell, the number of persons employed in the IT sector is likely to reach 40,000 by 2016.
Junior Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Julian Robinson is in agreement with Epstein.
He argued however, that while HEART Trust does have some programmes geared for the information technology industry, "clearly more can be done".
He pointed out that Government is willing to enter into dialogue with stakeholders in an effort to address the matter.
" We are willing as an administration to sit down with the Business Process Industry Association and discuss how we can achieve these things because it is important. It (IT) is a sector that we have targeted for growth. We believe we have competitive advantages in it and the major differentiator is the quality of the labour. So to the extent that we can ensure that our labour is best prepared through training it is something we would support and encourage," Robinson told the Observer West.
Contending that the level of IT training offered by some institutions now is below the standard which is desired for persons to commence working in call centres, Epstein stressed that valuable production time is lost when companies have to train new workers.
" The employees are hired and given general customer service and sales training and computer training and then they are given a client specific training. So depending on what the client's prerequisites are, it could be two, three, five weeks of training. Now if you had that general customer service and sales training, that could cut it down by a third," the BPIAJ head explained.
According to Epstein, in 2005 the Dominican Republic was "neck and neck" with Jamaica in terms of the number of persons employed in the sector. However, the Spanish speaking Caribbean country currently employs close to 30,000 persons in the sector "because they have developed a world class training facility that provides people who are trained and ready to work".
"If we don't do that, we will be up a creek without a paddle" Epstein declared.
He argued that the lack of adequately trained labour force has resulted in the poaching of employees from companies.
" When companies come in they want trained personnel so you have to go to other companies in the Free Zone and it causes a bit of rattle on the industry. Whereas, if you had vocational schools, the high schools playing a part, and the universities playing a part in truly training persons for this sector in basic call centre skills, and not only the line level, but the middle management and the management levels, you can have one hub. And most likely that hub should be HEART Trust where they are just pumping people into the industry".
There are about 26 call centres in the Montego Bay Freezone.