Jamaica: Of Great Food, Splendid Beaches, and Top-Notch BPOs!

Written by Priyanka K

Business in Jamaica is often associated with its hospitality and tourism industry. So it might be a bit surprising to hear the name come up when the talk is not about travel or vacations. Like many things still unknown to the most of us, for instance the character of James Bond being created on the island or for that matter Jamaica being the birthplace of the global banana trade and Caribbean tourism, the boom of BPO industry in the country has also been a very pleasant surprise.

And this is a boom in the true sense of the word. Track down companies that have opened up centers in the country since the beginning of 2015 and the list is definitely not small.

US mailing services giant DHL Express set up a call center in Kingston in January 2015 to streamline its operations. What began as an operation with seven people in the late 1980s has grown to 93 employees at present.

In May 2015, Xerox and Advanced Call Center Technologies (ACT) announced that they will create more than 2,000 new jobs in Jamaica. These companies had significant expansion plans there, evident from the space leases they made in Montego Bay. As per Jamaican Government’s records, ACT was already running nine delivery centers in Montego Bay alone prior to the expansion plan announcement. Currently, Xerox has the biggest BPO share in Jamaica, with 7,000 of the country’s 17,000 BPO workforce employed with the company. They are also the second largest employers in Jamaica, only next to the government.

IBEX Global had also announced its expansion plans in Jamaica in October 2015, with three call centers in Kingston by April 2016. Hinduja Global Solutions had spoken about expanding its workforce from 150 in 2014 to 600 by end of 2015. Sutherland Global which employed about 2,000 people early last year was also expanding into the interiors, beyond the popular hubs. It recently launched its Mandeville center in January 2016. Vistaprint purchased its own land and built a contact center facility on the island, reiterating its long-term commitment in the country. Telecom operator Flow is also said to be relocating its 400-seater call center facility from El Salvador to New Kingston in Jamaica and it is expected to be completely functional by June-July this year.

Apart from these big companies, smaller call center operators also continue to show their interest towards investing in the country, most known examples being Accent Marketing, Island Outsourcers, and Global Gateway Solutions, among others.

Jamaica’s BPO industry growth is a great example of nearshore expansion of companies. Many of these firms have spoken about how “the shine has worn off” popular outsourcing hubs like India. Now the movement is more towards ‘proven markets’ like Jamaica and the next phase will have ‘tomorrow’s markets’ like Belize and Guyana coming in to the picture.

So how has all this worked out for Jamaica? How is its government sure that its aim of doubling the nation’s BPO sector by 2020 is an achievable goal?

The Jamaican Government’s effort to get this sector where it is today is one of the key highlights of what has attracted so many firms to the country. The officials acknowledge that there is a lack of facilities for faster expansion but they have also made sure this has not dissuaded investors. In fact, the government relocated its postal service office last year to increase leasing options for BPO firms with expansion plans, telecom operator Flow being one of them. Infrastructural developments are also speeding up in the Montego Bay Free Zone.

Jamaica has also set good examples of industry-institution/government collaboration. Companies like Sutherland have launched initiatives like the ‘Earn While You Learn Initiative’ to help prepare youngsters for future jobs. The Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) has also entered into an alliance with the national training agency to revise its curriculum with increased focus on BPO. Efforts are also being made towards diversifying into the higher-level KPO sector. The country also made some significant reforms in terms of its business environment and rose considerably in the latest Doing Business Rankings by the World Bank.

Jamaica’s 1.3 million English-speaking labor force, almost 40-60% lower labor costs when compared to North America, lower attrition rates, its stability etc. have been its big strengths and all these efforts have only augmented them. However, there are still quite a few hurdles to conquer. Sustainability of the labor pool is an area that could become a challenge in the long-term. Limited pool of managerial talent is also something that will be slowly overcome as the hub matures. Currently, many of the companies employ North American expats at a senior level. The presence of many unregulated operators in the sector is a cause of worry. Add to it the trouble created by lottery scammers, which to a large extent, has been dealt with effectively by the local police. The country also has one of the highest rates of violent crime globally. Infrastructural developments continue to be looked at, with energies directed at building fresh spaces, widening the reach of internet, and generation of renewable energy to bring down the cost of electricity.

Over the years, the once popular country mostly known for its beaches, resorts, food, and recreation, has definitely carved a niche for itself in the outsourcing sector. And there are great lessons from its growth that even struggling mature hubs can learn. And while Jamaica is just an excellent case to study and emulate, there are many more to come from the Caribbean and the countries near the US shore like The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Honduras among others that may not have been previously well known.

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