Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) In Jamaica
by Deon Clarke | Associate WriterPhoto: Conduent, Montego Bay
Understanding The BPO Industry
The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry in Jamaica could be considered Jamaica’s next economic “cash cow”. It provides approximately 43,000 plus jobs with over 70 companies across the island making it an extremely important contributor to the country’s economy. In Jamaica, this industry is valued at more than US $600 million. The government is aiming for a whopping 300,000 jobs in the industry by 2030.
Amazing, isn’t it? But what exactly goes on in the BPO sector?
Despite the significance of BPOs operating in Jamaica, a lot of people still don't have a very clear understanding of what exactly it is and how the companies in this sector operate. So, to understand and appreciate what this industry is all about, let’s focus on the critical word “outsourcing”.
Offshore outsourcing is primarily what takes place in Jamaica. This is basically when companies in one country use third-party vendors in another country to “run” all or most of their operations. Why? The selected countries usually offer tax savings and much lower labour costs. Usually, the savings on labour costs and salaries is the primary reason for the outsourcing, and countries like Jamaica that have lower labour costs naturally benefit from these arrangements.
Jamaica’s strategic location provides some “nearshore” advantages for American companies. It is far cheaper, easier, and more convenient to do business with a company that is situated closer to home. Additionally, the fact that both Jamaica and the USA are English-Speaking countries is also convenient. The connections that Jamaica’s has to the outside world also adds to its advantage. This all makes Jamaica well poised and well suited for the BPO industry, especially with Jamaicans being “very familiar” with the US and Canada.
The advantage of being a nearshore location is further enhanced with Jamaica being a major tourist destination as it means there are frequent flights in and out of the country. As a result, business executives can arrive in the morning, get some work done and can be gone by the evening, because of the over 400 weekly international flights.
What Takes Place In The BPOs In Jamaica?
With the over 60 Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies operating in Jamaica, you will find that they are call centres providing services in industries such as health, payroll, accounting, telecommunications, telemarketing, data recording, transportation, technology, insurance, travel, collections, sales, social media marketing, customer support, and much more.
Here, employees provide customer service and technical support, through incoming and outbound phone calls, emails, chats. In some cases, some positions are non-phone based or have minimal phone usage such as that of payroll and accounting. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government of Jamaica has had to make provisions and changes in operations to allow employees to work from home.
The Role of the Government In The BPO Sector
There have been concerns that many of the BPOs operating in Jamaica are not registered here and that JAMPRO, the Government’s trade and investment agency, is not doing enough to educate them on our strict labour laws and union-friendly culture. Of the over 70 companies operating on the island, none has allowed trade union representation within their businesses.
Many persons also point to the Government’s designation of the sector as an "essential service” to bypass Covid-19 lockdown regulations at the height of the outbreak, as further evidence of the influence that the industry has over the Government. An example of this was the massive outbreak of the coronavirus at the Alorica BPO in Portmore, St. Catherine. Over 200 staff infections were confirmed, only then did the Government institute a 14-day shutdown of the sector. This resulted in major losses of about US$13.4 million.
Also due to Covid, almost 50 per cent of the industry’s workforce has been working from home and the Government is currently considering new legislation to allow the BPO workers to continue to do so. This will facilitate more employment and also create an opportunity for better technological infrastructure such as upgraded and more reliable internet services.
The BPO industry is certainly a tool to catapult the Government in its job creation initiatives while at the same time enhancing economic growth. With thousands of jobs lost in the tourism sector due to Covid-19, the Jamaican government has no choice but to herald the island’s fast-expanding BPO sector as a much-needed source of jobs. The Government at the same time is expected to ensure that the rights of workers are not infringed upon. There are major concerns regarding the widespread breach of workers’ rights in the sector. Of the over 40,000 BPO workers currently in Jamaica, most are working on fixed-term and temporary contracts.
Nevertheless, employers in the BPO sector commend the push by the Government to use the industry as a key source in the creation of jobs. The Government is committed to working with the BPO sector in finding innovative ways to accelerate the industry, providing much needed space, ensuring adequate human resource training is made available and ensuring that there is open and ongoing communication with stakeholders at all levels.
Locations of BPO Centres
Montego Bay is and continues to be the centre of Jamaica's BPO sector. A majority of the over BPO companies on the island are located there and generating 98% of the foreign exchange earnings from the industry.
Portmore and Kingston follow with a growing number of call centres. Over the past five years, there has been a gradual increase in other locations on the island including Mandeville and St. Elizabeth.
Advantages of Working in The BPO Sector
Thousands of young Jamaican workers are lured into call centre jobs, as they are enticed by the promises of great earning potential and skilled work within a high-tech, global industry. While this may not always be the case, there are some advantages of working in the BPO sector.
- It’s an almost sure job for young Jamaicans, especially high school and university graduates. Also, while other companies may shy away from hiring older persons, BPOs employ anyone as long as they meet the requirements
- It provides employees with training and skills that can be further enhanced and utilized
- It is often used as a stepping-stone towards greater objectives such as financing further education
- Promotion from an entry-level employee is possible with opportunities for management positions
- There is a great earning potential and salaries can be quite competitive depending on the industry and company
- It provides some flexibility from working in part-time positions to working on different shifts and even working from home
Disadvantages of Working in The BPO Sector
As with all things, it also comes with disadvantages.
- BPO employees usually suffer from many health problems. The strain or pressure of working in changing shifts, meeting deadlines and reaching targets take a toll on their wellbeing. Some end up with anxiety or clinical depression
- The monotony and simplicity of the job often leave employees, especially college/university graduates feeling underaccomplished. The job becomes unchallenging after a period
- Financial desperation is usually the reason behind many persons getting jobs in BPOs. BPO jobs are most times out of necessity or a means to an end as most persons simply could not find anything else. Very few persons take these jobs for the love of it
- The tasks that BPOs perform are so diverse that there can be no one standardized training program suitable for all the BPOs
- High expectations and sometimes unrealistic expectations from the companies tend to become a source of demotivtion for employees. Most employers main concerns are achieving targets, the quality of work, business continuity, deadlines and information security
- There isn't a lot of room to grow in these companies and most employees stay in the same position without a chance of promotion
- Most persons join BPOs because of the high salary and will leave their current employment if a more attractive compensation package is available elsewhere.
- BPO employees become unsociable due to the nature of their job as many are left with little time to spend with their loved ones
- Job security is an issue for most employees
The BPO industry is thriving in Jamaica and if vision 2030 has its way, Jamaica’s employment rate and the economy will be booming - making Jamaica, the best place to live, work, and do business!
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Editor's NoteSubmit your question here
- A better understanding of the Business Process Outsourcing Industry (BPO), Jamaica Observer, https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/sunday-finance/a-better-understanding-of-the-business-process-outsourcing-industry
- Challenges Faced by the BPO Industry, Challenges for the BPO Industry, Rose India, https://www.roseindia.net/services/outsourcing/challenges-faced-bpo-industry
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