Business process outsourcing (BPO) has taken its place in the global business landscape as one of the fastest-growing sectors. As technology grows, and the demand for the outsourcing of services expands, it is predicted that the global market for BPO will reach US$262.2 billion in 2022, which means the sector will retain its status as a lucrative industry and as a job creator.
In Jamaica, we have also seen growth in the global skills sector (GSS)/BPO and other IT-enabled services. It has brought an estimated investment spend of approximately US$400 million to Jamaica per year, and there are now over 60 companies operating mainly in Montego Bay, Mandeville, Portmore, and Kingston. Presently, BPOs account for more than 36,000 jobs across the island, moving from 12,000 jobs in the last seven years.
This rapid growth has been impressive, and we have received recognition globally for the island’s performance. Local and international GSS/BPO investors believe in the vision of Jamaica as the Caribbean’s ideal location for GSS/BPO, and investors show their confidence by opening new service centres and creating more jobs for our people.
But this expansion of the industry globally has somewhat become a vulnerable area for BPO in Jamaica. Internationally, outsourcing has moved from being just customer service-based to more specialised areas such as accounting, human resources management, digital marketing, animation, and software development.
The nature of work and how we do business is changing, and Jamaica must be ready to meet this change. Outsourcing has become a part of daily enterprise, rather than an option to decrease costs of operations.
Location is no longer considered to be a boundary, because technology allows companies to expand their reach across the world. In the World Bank’s 2019 World Development Report focusing on The Changing Nature of Work, the following observation about this global shift was made: “Technology is blurring the boundaries of the firm, as evident in the rise of platform marketplaces. Using digital technologies, entrepreneurs are creating global platform-based businesses that differ from the traditional production process in which inputs are provided at one end and output delivered at the other.”
This blurring of boundaries is the result of technology advancing quickly and as an island we must evolve. The future of work is digital, and this direction is where we must head to sustain GSS in Jamaica, and to create jobs that will not disappear with the rise of automation.
The Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), and government ministries and agencies such as Jampro, have recognised this, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has provided a solution in the form of a loan to support the GSS project. The US$15-million loan facility aims to train over 30,000 Jamaicans to acquire new digital skills, transform Jamaica’s ability to host more outsourcing investments, and also allow the industry to meet the growing demand for outsourcing services. The project is expected to run for five years.
Getting Jamaica ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution
Jamaica must take a holistic approach to this transformation process that will get us ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the GSS project has a far-reaching approach to achieve this. There are some major goals to be met, including improving the quality of training for skills needed to work in today’s digital world, job creation, and the development of an atmosphere in which outsourcing and other digital services can bloom.
The first goal is to improve training systems in Jamaica in order to provide better-skilled workers in the global services sector. These sectors generally comprise the production of software, applications development, IT consulting, software research and development, BPO, information technology outsourcing (ITO), and knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). The global services sector also typically supports the outsourcing of work done by highly skilled and specialised professionals, including market intelligence, business analytics, and legal services.
It also means empowering Jamaicans with skills in other technology based fields such as general software development, animation and other areas — the GSS project is excellent for not only the outsourcing industry, but also for other sectors such as the creative industries.
The other significant goal is strengthening the ecosystem for this expansion in jobs and skills to thrive, for more investments to come to Jamaica, and for Jamaica to export digital-based services on a large scale. After increasing the number of people who have these advanced skills we have to ensure that jobs and investments are also growing so people will be employed at the end of the training period; the GSS has a component to facilitate these opportunities.
Making the GSS a success
When this project is implemented fully a significant part of Jamaica’s workforce will be ready to meet the digital world with the skills that are needed for digital-based jobs. To get there we must be prepared to do the legwork that is necessary to execute a project of this magnitude. GSS will require serious collaboration with public and private sector partners to make it a reality.
The project’s steering committee, which is led by myself, includes members of the private sector representing the GSS/BPO industry, software developers, IT industry, animation, universities, Jampro, HEART Trust/NTA, the BPIAJ, and the Planning Institute of Jamaica, but we will need all hands on deck to produce the positive results. To grow an industry in this fashion we have to work together to make it happen.
In October this year the project will begin its official roll-out after the completion of surveys in the next few months that will ascertain the skills gap that exists, the training that will be necessary to take Jamaica to the next level, and the interventions needed in the industry to attract more investments in IT-enabled services.
When this project is completed it is expected that Jamaica will have one of the strongest workforces in the region that will be poised for growth in industries in which digital technology is being leveraged significantly. In addition, Jamaica will have a vibrant and varied outsourcing sector that has the talent and the supporting ecosystem that will allow it to flourish.
Jamaica is doing well in the BPO space, and our performance is known worldwide. However, it is important that as we grow we continue up the value chain and provide more than traditional customer support services, leveraging the use of digital technology to expand more into health care, insurance, technology, high-end retail banking, travel, and tourism.
If we continue to take intentional steps to grow the outsourcing industry we should anticipate significant and continued increases in service capacity, investments, jobs, and economic impact for the next 20 or 30 years. Let’s work together to make it happen.
Yoni Epstein is chairman and CEO of Itel-BPO Solutions.