OBSERVER: Jamaica's training institute HEART Trust/NTA, in collaboration with private sector bodies, plans to break ground for a BPO Finishing School at the HEART College of Innovation and Technology in Montego Bay by year end. The development of the finishing school is one of HEART's newest approaches in ensuring that students being trained to work in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector — one of Jamaica's fastest-growing sectors — not only master the technical skills needed to secure a job, but also the soft skills to keep clients coming back to the company.
“This only came about because we are now listening to what people in the industry are saying. Very often the employers have to interview five to six candidates for any given position; so although the people might be technically ready, there are many other things that the employers are looking for, which we refer to as employability skills, that the students are not masters of,” Director National Training for BPO at the HEART Trust/NTA, Kenesha Campbell, told the Jamaica Observer during a telephone interview on Monday.
Campbell noted that such employability skills include students having the right attitude for work, emotional intelligence, and the ability to hold a conversation with customers online.
“The industry says to us our students are not used to working on shift. When you ask them what time you want to work, they say nine to five. We have to get them into the habit of understanding that because we are operating in a global market, each country's time zone is different and we have to get them to understand that it doesn't matter what time of the day they are working, you still have to be productive,” she reasoned, adding that employers should not have to look at six or eight candidates to find one person.
Jamaica's BPO sector is one of the key sectors in the Economic Growth Council's much anticipated five per cent growth by year 2020. Locally, however, the industry is stigmatised as operating only call centres, an association that has the Government in talks with Jamaica Promotions Corporation to rebrand the BPO sector to reflect more value-added services under the name business process management (BPM).
The industry now targets employed professionals, high school and tertiary students and graduates, as well as unattached youth.
Since 2014, the HEART Trust/NTA has embarked on a call centre training programme after numerous requests from investors. The beginners' programme is offered at a cost of $3,300 for the duration of six to nine months across five parishes. It is not clear if the implementation of a finishing school will drive the cost upwards.
Recently, Minister of Education, Youth and Information Senator Ruel Reid undertook a training programme progress monitoring tour of two BPO facilities and three HEART Trust/NTA Institutions. The tour was carried out with a view to confirming the specific needs and workforce-readiness expectations of the BPO entities, and the training approach being pursued by the institution.
HEART's finishing school curriculum is expected to take the form of a live environment, where students will hone the necessary soft skills after completing the technical aspect of the BPO training programme.
According to Campbell, the concept of the school is now completed and work is being carried out on the hardware and software technologies needed to get the programme started. The initiative is being overseen by the NTA.
“One of things we are mindful of is that we want to be able to say that we have done this well before we replicate it. We are looking at one finishing school for this financial year and then, based on how well we do and the results after the evaluation and the impact study, we will replicate,” she told the Business Observer.
Campbell added that the HEART Trust is still working out the numbers for the cost of the initiative. She said industry players in Montego Bay as well the private sector welcome the initiative and anticipates that the programmes will result in increased business opportunities for Jamaica.
Finishing school programmes are a strategic training and development tool to find a short cut for the employability of human resources within the global services industry in developing countries.
The schools were first implemented in India, where since the 1990s the global services industry had started to experience a steep annual growth and development not yet accompanied by a similar increase in the labour pool. Nonetheless, India currently tops the slot as the favourite BPO destination in the world.
The country reports that it is now losing business to China and other countries.
Jamaica, as an English-speaking country, hopes to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the sector. The BPO industry has been identified by the Government as a major pillar of economic growth; its potential for consistently creating job opportunities is of primary interest for many.
Currently, Jamaica is home to more than 50 outsourcing companies, employing over 22,000 Jamaicans. Hopes are that the country will double the sector's employment numbers by 2020.