No labour shortage in BPO sector
Global Services Association of Jamaica President Gloria Henryin conversation with Greg Cappo, CEO of C4 Global Solutions, inMontego Bay, St James. (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

President of the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) Gloria Henry is refuting claims that there is a shortage in the labour supply to the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.

While disputing the claim, Henry admitted that finding and retaining talent has become a challenge as the sector continues to grow and become increasingly competitive with the addition of new players. Moreover, with the industry becoming a sought-after job market among school leavers, especially high school graduates, BPO outfits now have to cull through even more applications than in years gone by.

“It's easier now to get persons to apply, but when they apply, we have to continue to sieve through several applications to find the right fit,” Henry said.

Henry's pronouncements come against the backdrop of reports from Nearshore Americas and the Jamaica Observer, published over the last month, of a shortage of labour in the local sector due to The Great Resignation (or attrition).

According to the Nearshore Americas article, 'Jamaican BPOs See Fewer Candidates to Hire', published two weeks ago, the local industry is experiencing a shortage in talent, with analysts crediting this to “the shrinking pool of fresh high school graduates and the growing popularity of work-from-home arrangements.

“The crisis will only worsen in the near future, warns Gloria Henry...pointing to the disruption suffered by the country's educational sector following the outbreak of the pandemic nearly two years ago”, the article continues.

Referencing comments by Henry in an Observer report dated December 20, 2021, Nearshore Americas contributor Narayan Ammachchi concludes that “many senior BPO employees are landing jobs with overseas companies and a few of them are even launching their own business ventures” — hinting at the impact of The Great Resignation (or attrition).

The GSAJ president, however, shared a different perspective. She noted that, given that the BPO sector in Jamaica is a “healthy environment” where there is a strong demand for talent, people will exercise their rights to find better working arrangements, including promotions.

In an effort to guarantee a strong talent pool, the GSAJ is working alongside the Global Services Sector Council and HEART NSTA/Trust to develop training programmes that will “upskill” the labour force in the industry, as well as potential candidates.

“So we have been working on building out the talent pipeline to support the sector and alleviate challenges such as attrition,” Henry told Caribbean Business Report.

She added that the training will also benefit employees looking to take up supervisory and managerial positions, as well as those seeking higher value positions as the sector moves up the value chain into knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). So far, companies that have ventured into the KPO space include KPMG, Knightfox, and Caribbean HR Solutions.

“We do intend to have an event in Kingston focusing on the higher value segment of our sector later this year,” she disclosed.

With a pipeline of new entrants set to enter the BPO and KPO space, Henry is concerned that any misinformation of a labour shortage could deter investment in the sector. In fact, she has had to respond to investors raising concerns since the publication of another article, 'Shortage of BPO workers getting worse', in the Business Observer this week.

At present, she said, potential investors are going through due diligence, adding: “…We are looking good from a demand perspective from investors coming into Jamaica.”

Asked about the number of employees new players would require, Henry could not provide an approximation, but said BPOs usually start small and grow once they have proof of concept and their clients are satisfied.

In response to a query about the reported labour shortage, chief marketing officer at itel, Melissa Von Frankenberg, explained, “We wouldn't say that we see a shortage of talent. In fact, we believe the Latin American and Caribbean region is the destination for outsourcing right now as more and more North American brands look to the nearshore for skilled talent and innovative approaches. Jamaica is at the forefront of nearshoring in the Caribbean and that's because of the deep talent pool that we have.”

She added that more and more graduates have realised that working in the sector is not a “starter job”, but an area in which there is future growth and a career path.

VXI Jamaica Country Manager Christopher Boucher also countered the reports of a labour shortage, pointing out, “In fact, we have been able to screen and successfully add 450 new employees between November 15 to January 15 for our new site in Portmore.”

Likewise, Rita Saavedra, country manager for Iterum, revealed that the BPO operator has onboarded more than 400 employees since opening in Jamaica four months ago. So many were the applications, she said, “We had to ask for assistance from our Panama recruitment team to aid with screening and interviews.”

Country manager for VXI Jamaica Christopher Boucher
itel's global headquarters in Montego Bay, St James
BY JOSIMAR SCOTT Senior business reporter

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