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GBS: An Industry in the Spotlight

The Call Centre Industry in South Africa has been recognised globally for its ability to function as an essential service from the onset of Level 5 of the lock down, ensuring that critical services continued to be delivered with minimal disruption to private and public sector clients locally and internationally.

This recognition of government support and collaboration with business is raising our profile in global markets and is steadily translating into new business opportunities for South Africa, the most recent being the publicly announced commitment by Amazon to increase its workforce by 3,000 people, all in work from home roles – something for which we have only proven our capabilities during lock down. This is all due to the collaboration of industry players and the support of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Department of Health.

The more than 100 top global brands, whose customers are serviced by more than 60 BPO operators across six of our major cities, bear testament to the value and commercial viability of running their operations from South Africa. Their testimony combined with the appeal of our value proposition, lead to South Africa being recently ranked as the 2nd most preferred Global BPO offshore destination in 2020, for the 3rd consecutive year, overtaking the Philippines and just beaten by India whose digital capabilities and maturity as a sector enabled them to beat us.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Jobs - Q1, 2020

However, following job growth of 35% in 2019, over the 2018 figures, the first quarter job figures for 2020 have put into clear perspective the heavy braking effect of the global pandemic and the lock down at home.

A total of 1741 jobs were created in the quarter, down 55% on the 2019 quarterly average of 3,771. Outsourcers by far accounted for the bulk of new jobs with 1716 new hires while in-house/captive operators recorded 25 new jobs. Frontline, voice-based insurance, telecom and utilities services where workers provide essential customer support and care, collectively logged the highest job growth with 1181 new jobs. 1606 jobs, or just over 92% of new hires, consist of youth workers aged 18 – 35. 396 jobs were recorded as being inclusive hiring jobs. With productive capacity down as low as 10% in the first weeks of the lock down, rising to 33% during level 4 and only recently heading back towards the 45% mark, these numbers come as no surprise.

It must be noted that the effort and sacrifices made by business in implementing stringent health and Safety protocols in the workplace have been paying off so far. Companies in the sector are self-regulating with high levels of adherence to these protocols. Less than 1,7% of the active workforce have been sent home with COVID-19 like symptoms with just under 0,3% having tested positive for the virus, and ( 5 people) less than 0,015% of the active workforce have tragically lost their lives to the virus since lock down began.

Week 11 Dashboard


Looking Forward with a Positive Lense

South Africa is enjoying the limelight of the major industry associations and the global analysts who have been observing us closely, commenting positively on the targeted approach we have adopted to our marketing in the USA, UK, and Australia over the past 24 months and on our collective response to COVID-19. Their predictions combined with our own market research and growth data indicate clearly that we are experiencing a window of new opportunity for much needed growth in export revenue and for the creation of tens of thousands of new youth jobs over the next three years.

Together with our partners in the dtic and Harambee we have worked closely with the digital, ITO and traditional GBS role players over the past period to put forward a proposal to the Office of the Presidency for an ambitious, but necessary, initiative that combines a dramatic, accelerated provision of mass broadband with complementary digital skills and jobs programmes. This proposal is based on rapidly accelerating the stimulation of demand internationally and locally; with the target outcomes being a significant contribution by the sector to export revenue growth and most importantly, the creation of tens of thousands of youth jobs. We have already begun our marketing efforts. In collaboration with members and other stakeholders we have refined the positioning of our value proposition, and repurposed and reinitiated our marketing drive into North America, the UK and Australia. We now look forward to a positive response from Government in supporting this bold initiative.


The Next Steps

We must first ensure that the sector can get back to full productive capacity. While more than 90% of operators have deployed hybrid operating models with on-site and work from home (WFH) solutions, the lack of access to broadband or wireless connectivity, the unreliability of power supply, the cost of data, and data security concerns and policy constraints (from international clients) have highlighted the fact that WFH currently has limitations and will prevent companies from scaling to full productive capacity in the short to medium term.

With the lifting of the one third staff capacity constraint required in Levels 5 and 4 of the lock down, the restriction of 1.5 m physical spacing limited the on-premises productive capacity to 50% as operators decommissioned every second workstation.

The industry needs to increase the on-site workforce to 100% to sustain current jobs, optimise productivity and export revenue and most importantly to continue their projected growth paths. This will be done in a staggered approach, starting 1 July 2020, to avoid an influx in the workplace as well as with the stipulated health and safety measures which have been amended by a design team from industry.

BPESA will continue to monitor the status of COVID-19 in the sector and to report to the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition. We will continue to support all companies working with us to self-regulate and adapt to the new normal of working under these stringent health and safety protocols to ensure that our employees safety remains priority one, while the industry can also be enabled to make its contribution to job retention, new job creation and export revenue generation as the South African economy embarks on its long recovery journey.


Kind regards,

Andy Searle



Click here to view the GBS Sector Jobs Report Q1 2020