Mat Conn, Group CRO, Merchants South Africa, explains the role of the contact centre in driving skills development for SA’s youth

Mat Conn, Group CRO, Merchants South Africa, explains the role of the contact centre in driving skills development for SA’s youth

Written by Staff Writer


By Mat Conn, Group CRO, Merchants South Africa 

Intrinsically Human Skills Matter More 

As South Africa moves swiftly toward embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution, skills development becomes more important than ever –  as we prepare to use more of our intrinsically human skills in our work alongside new technologies such as AI. With a youth unemployment rate of 46.3% at the end of Q1 2021, programmes and sectors driving skills development of the youth for future success – such as problem solving, negotiation, critical thinking and cognitive flexibility – are more critical than ever in South Africa’s development. 


The Creation of Better Employment Opportunities 

While the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on several sectors worldwide, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) showed significant resilience during the lockdown and has continued to create important employment opportunities for South Africans over the last 18 months. Importantly, the sector is well poised to absorb young candidates, with little experience and no access to tertiary education – an important aspect for job creation in South Africa, specifically. 

South Africa is home to a diverse talent pool – wide ranging in terms of age, race, culture, language and skills. As the BPO sector continues to deploy successful work from home (WFH) strategies, this talent pool has widened even further to include those who are differently abled, students without transport, or those in rural and outlying towns, for example. Since all the technological infrastructure can now be provided to each individual and based on their needs, there are no limits on who can and cannot be trained for the job – giving the sector an immense importance in creating employment for the youth. 

Conn explains that the South African labour market is rich in entry-level talent, but somewhat limited when it comes to those with experience. Despite this, the vast majority of prospective hiring managers impose two prerequisites for job seekers, before even considering them as potential candidates: level of education and experience linked to the role.


A Move Away From Traditional Recruitment Methods

This means that before the selection process has begun, the majority of potential talent within the market has been ruled out. By our calculations, if we continued on this trajectory using traditional forms of recruitment – such as placing a job ad and matching job requirements to candidates – only 20% of unemployed youth would find us and an even smaller percentage would be accepted into the formal job market. South Africa’s BPO industry, however, is committed to skills development and skills transfer, and has the support of the government in these efforts.

He notes that the skills learned through contact centre training are not only important for success in working alongside technology, but also in many other professions and sectors. For local youth, the skills development and employment opportunities presented by the sector are a positive steppingstone in building a successful career. Skills and experience in problem solving, interpersonal communication, and multi-tasking, for example, are valuable in many roles and professions. 


Human Interaction Remains Critical To Driving Skills Development 

While there has certainly been increased investment into technological solutions for customer service, like chatbots, for example, Conn adds that human interaction remains critical in the contact centre and agents are unlikely to be replaced by technology. The job of the contact centre agent, rather than being replaced by technology, is being highlighted by it, as consumers look to spend the least amount of time possible in sorting out queries – which are often complex. A 2020 Merchants survey found that the majority of South African consumers prefer to speak to an agent when they contact a brand or business, despite the rise in digital channels in this regard.  

Last year, McKinsey reported that South Africa’s BPO sector has the potential to create 775 000 jobs by 2030. This year, Ryan Strategic Advisory identified South Africa as the world’s Most Favoured Customer Experience (CX) Delivery Region. The sector is well-positioned to continue creating important opportunities for youth employment and driving skills development for local youth, and to keep growing and moving forward thanks to the quality of the talent in South Africa.



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