Depiste the prevailing economic conditions and the somewhat gloomy forecast for the job market in the short term, there are some industries which still offer enormous opportunities for school leavers and candidates who may have completed some form of tertiary education.

According to Nritika Singh, managing director of lsilumko Staffing, a national recruitment company which offers temporary flexible and permanent staff, call centres form part of a burgeoning industry both locally and globally. Impressive growth figures of 39% for 2005, 41% for 2006 and 29% for 2007, have been recorded. These statistics are courtesy of the fifth Key Indicator Report produced by Callingthe Cape and audited and co-produced by Deloitte.

CallingtheCape was established in 2002 as a public-private partnership to develop the contact centre and business process outsourcing and offshoring (BPO&O) industry. From 2003 onward there has been a sharp growth in the number of call centres offering outsourced customer contact services and telesales, into both the domestic and international markets.

Growth has been driven both by the influx of new international operations and increasing demand for customer contact centres within the South African market. The popular term “call centres” has been used for the purposes of this article.

Other key data which makes entry into this industry so encouraging are that the total number of call centre staff has increased from 10014 in 2004 to 27819 in 2007/8.

This is contrary to the current employment trend and even the attrition rate of 17.2% for 2007/8 is only slightly up on the figure of 10.74% in 2004, which was a much more economically stable period. “The South African attrition rate is low by global standards,” adds Singh.

“Entry level salaries of between R4 000 to R5 000 a month are extremely favourable for positions which do not require a high skills level. This excludes benefits such as medical aid, a pension/provident fund or housing schemes. Although call centres have in some quarters developed a somewhat negative connotation, the industry has been quick to provide good career guidance and ample opportunities for advancement.

What skills are required to join the call centre industry at entry level? A Grade 12 pass with no particular emphasis on choice of subjects.

However, communicational skills and a good grasp of language, especially English, which is the preferred medium in call centres, are important attributes. Computer literacy is also a major benefit for candidates wishing to enter the call centre industry.

“There are different occupational categories in call centres, besides the entry level agent or consultant. These include team leader, supervisor and call centre manager, as well as trainers and quality assessors. At entry level, opportunities exist in the fields of telemarketing, customer service, help desk and collections. All these fields require personnel with different personality traits.

“Working in a call centre environment provides excellent career development opportunities to more prestigious positions. You can advance quite rapidly if you show promise and display certain skills.

“There is a shortage of skills in the management categories, particularly among black candidates. Internal appointments are common and as a current employee, you will be well positioned to follow a successful career in one of these call centres organisations.

“Some large financial institutions with call centres put all their new employees through call centre training as part of an induction process. There has been no change in this industry employing the highest number of agents. Telecommunications remains the leading employer, followed by retail and financial services.”

Source: Cape Times – Career Times – Donald Fraser bell