By Narayan Ammachchi
BPO and ICT companies in Jamaica have teamed up to form an industry association, saying they will lobby the government to help the country make full use of its potential as a nearshoring hub. Located 550 miles south of Key West, Florida, Jamaica is home to about 2.8 million people and is known for its natural beauty, world-famous musicians, athletes and cricketers. “The beauty of Jamaica and Jamaican’s is that we are a versatile group of individuals with many talents,” said Yoni Epstein, Chairman of the newly-formed industry association (Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica) in an interview with Nearshore Americas. “Jamaica has it all: the beaches, the accent, cultural affinity to North America, the talent base, the telecommunications infrastructure. We are the closest & largest English speaking country to the United States.”
Jamaica’s BPO/ICT sector is currently valued at $20 million and its outsourcing sector employes about 12,000 people. Global industry giants such as ACS/Xerox and Teleperformance have already set up shop on the island, and Indian BPO firms – like Hinduja Global Solutions and Sutherland Global – are gearing up to begin operations this quarter.
Jamaica’s advantage is that its first language is English, and this island is just a short flight away from the United States, the world’s major source of outsourcing contracts. Jamaica’s bustling cities, such as Kingston & Montego Bay, have strong telecom infrastructure and rising pools of skilled labor.
But in Jamaica, it seems, call centers make up larger portion of the outsourcing industry because of the easy availability of English-speaking people. Epstein asserts that his country has the potential to excel in all areas of outsourcing sector. “We do have the talent pool to attack the higher end of the value chain”, he says.
“I would say that Kingston has the ability to achieve greater (success) in the categories of LPO, KPO, FAO, while Montego Bay continues to grow with traditional BPO, HRO, ITO and contact centers,” Epstein noted.
The BPIAJ is hoping to see the industry double in size and revenue over the next five years. To achieve this target, the industry association seems to be counting on its skilled workforce. “You can replicate most things, but you cannot replicate the Jamaican workforce. As Jamaicans we like to lead in everything we do and the recent success in London Olympics a case in point” says Epstein.
Now the industry association has begun lobbying the government to add BPO training to the country’s education curriculum so it can have enough skilled labors to choose from. But that will take time to yield result. Therefore, the government is drawing up plans to provide training to freshly-graduated students in an attempt to meet the immediate need for human resources.
“As an association, we believe that training is the most important thing for any employee, and companies need to understand that training isn’t a cost but an investment,” Epstein said.
There are also attempts being made to introduce tax-breaks for realtors building infrastructure for BPO providers. “We are lobbying for the government to give the developers 36 months principal & interest free, or a signed contract, so that they can start to build as we speak,” he said.
Epstein concedes that there are some hurdles on the way ahead but expresses confidence in mitigating them. The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Report’ for the year 2012 has ranked Jamaica 88 out of 183 countries. The overall score is three points lower than the previous year, reflecting declines in business confidence.
Yoni says he is confident that the current administration in Jamaica will make it ‘very easy’ to do business in the country. “I truly believe in Jamaica and our people, and I am very passionate about this industry because I know the possibilities of growth as well as what it can do for the GDP of Jamaica.”
Power Outages and Shortages
Given the most recent Enterprise Surveys (2010), the top three obstacles to running a business in Jamaica are tax rates, electricity, and access to finance. The biggest problem is electricity. According to the report, 55.5 percent of firms in Jamaica own generators in order to deal with frequent power outages and shortages.
Jamaica does have a cyber law, but, according to analysts, it is not strong enough to frighten criminals. Yoni says BPIAJ has already told the government to amend the existing cyber law bringing it up in lines with global standards.
Jamaica has unveiled ‘Vision 2030 Plan’ saying it has made ICT growth a priority to “enhance national productivity, efficiency and wealth”. The plan has already proven to be working because Jamaica created more than 2500 jobs in ICT sector in the past fiscal year alone.
“We here in Jamaica are poised to be a leader in this industry and we at the BPIAJ will ensure that all parties involved make the necessary steps in ensuring our piece of the pie and that is why the association was launched,” said Epstein.