By Jon Tonti
Jamaica has the largest English speaking population in the western hemisphere behind the United States and Canada totaling 2.7 million. What’s the best way to tap into this thriving population of English-speaking Jamaicans? That’s one of the key questions pursued in a new Nearshore Americas E-report – BPO Jamaica– that takes a fresh look at a country that both Gartner and A.T. Kearney say is a “market to watch in 2012.”
BPO Jamaica stresses that companies like ACS/Xerox, Teleperformance, Convergys, VistaPrint, and Scotiabank are not in the Jamaican market for pure labor arbitrage, but are instead pushing into more sophisticated BPO, taking advantage of Jamaica’s human capital, the country’s “major strength,” and a strength that is now beginning to flourish in Kingston rather than solely Montego Bay.
Montego Bay where Jamaica’s largest free trade zone is located accounts for some 70 percent of Jamaica’s BPO employees in 30 different companies according to the report. BPO Jamaica identifies that “tourism is the industry’s largest competitor for employees, but also her symbiotic partner” because of the existing large talent pool in Montego Bay that is already trained in customer service. Kingston (Jamaica’s economic anchor) is cited in the report as the next major BPO hub in Jamaica on account of improved roads, telecommunications infrastructure, and government support.
The new study – developed by Nearshore Americas in association with investment promotion agency JAMPRO – is rich with ‘quick look’ information and detailed labor market and population demographics. According to the report the Jamaican government has strong support for ICT, a stable business climate, and a priority on improving data security. Another point mentioned along with Jamaica’s well regarded strength in customer service is Jamaican workers’ savvy and potential for outbound sales; a hard cultural dynamic to classify, but one that is easily recognizable on the ground.
The report forecasts the additional capacity for Montego Bay’s BPO workforce to be between 3,000 to 5,000 while much less saturated Kingston (accounting for only 30 percent of Jamaica’s BPO workforce currently) is said to enjoy additional capacity possibility of 10,000. The relatively young population will retain two million working age people in the year 2020 while a 15 percent unemployment figure leaves room for scale. Some 68,471 Jamaicans were enrolled in college as of 2009-2010.
BPO Jamaica states that Jamaica’s 30-40 percent lower average wage costs (when compared with the US) and customer service roots make it attractive but not infallible. The report notes that ambivalent Jamaican administrations of the past have gone by the wayside and the current trend is pro-business and prosperity focused.
The report goes on to tackle some of the technical aspects of currency, telecom cost dynamics, and a detailed section on Jamaica’s ability to move past contact centers. Particulars about Jamaica’s “Budding Finance and Accounting Cluster” that grew by 15-20 percent in 2011 (Everest) juxtaposed with Jamaica’s potential for finance and accounting outsourcing alone make this report worth reading.