SENA, Colombia’s national career and technical education system, has opened a center in Medellín dedicated specifically to training Colombians with the skills they need to work in the BPO sector. The center is one of 177 training locations throughout the country, and 33 regional campuses, including 10 in Medellín’s Antioquia region, the others in the Antioquia department being in Uraba, Puerto Berrio, Bajo Cauca, Magdalena Medio, Antioquia Occidente, and Antioquia Oriente.
Skills taught at SENA are free of charge, and available to all Colombian citizens, regardless of income. Courses include commerce and sales, logistics, finance and banking, IT, and accounting. SENA even has one center dedicated to ecologically responsible gold mining.
“We have a laboratory for 124 seats in BPO, one of the biggest, or the biggest I know of in the educational sector in Medellín at least. And for every one of the 124 seats dedicated to BPO, we have specific groups who learn and work with BPO techniques used in actual companies operating here in Colombia today. All the big BPO companies in Medellín work with us and they sponsor several training groups from the beginning of classes until the productive phase when they work as interns for those companies,” said Dr. Angela Valderrama, Subdirector of the BPO Commerce Center in an interview with Nearshore Americas.
“But additionally, we have 14 technologies, accounting and finance, business administration, human talent management, company management, document administration, library management, banking institutions management and finance assistance, financial administration and treasury, administration of pensions, administration of risk and insurance, sales management, marketing, logistics administration, and international negotiation. So, the idea is that all our youngsters should be able to strengthen their skills in these labs, and through that process of education they have marketable skills that they can take anywhere.”
SENA offers two types of educational paths for students interested in a BPO career. There are open enrollment periods every three months, where students apply via the SENA website for classes available at any of the 117 locations throughout Colombia, or for some classes, online education is even available. There are also customized programs that SENA tailors for BPO employers, which trains students to a curriculum specifically tailored to the needs of a particular BPO firm. SENA does this at no cost to the employer, beyond a commitment to hire students successfully matriculating through the program.
“For BPO we are strong in various areas. When we talk about back office processes, we refer to human resources, accounting and finance, document management, company administration; when we talk about marketing we refer to customer service, telemarketing, market research, social media, e-commerce, merchandising, logistics services, international commerce, and international negotiation. All these training capabilities are present our technical education centers. That’s the reason our BPO lab is not only for specific groups we have in contact center training, but for all the students. We are having a huge social impact, in the area of primary employment. 90% of the students that go through our contact center training are employed in contact centers. They undergo the company sponsorship during selection and training, then once they have the degree, the company hires them directly,” says Valderrama.
The program has not ignored the obvious need for bilingual capable students. With support from the government, SENA projects that it will graduate 8,500 English-bilingual qualified students in 2015. Valderrama notes that the Medellín mayor`s office has made English language skills a priority in the metro area, and is supporting SENA with resources to graduate more bilingual students.
SENA is an important part of the government’s social inclusion goals. Valderrama notes that more than 50% of their students are women, and many of them are heads of households. Classes are offered in three shifts, from 6am to 12 noon, from 2pm to 6pm, and from 6pm to 10 pm. The facility is accessible for disabled people; wheelchair friendly, and they have special training accommodations for the visually impaired.
Aside from contact centers, Valderrama notes that SENA graduates are competent in finance and accounting outsourcing, and other back-office skills. “We have had other huge companies, for instance in the commercial area, EXITO,” says Valderrama, speaking of the large Colombian retail chain of Wal-Mart style supercenters. “We educate 700 youngsters for them annually. We are effective in multiple areas. In the banking sector we also have educational alliances with all the big banks: Bancolombia, Banco de Bogotá, Banco de Occidente, Banco Agrario—we work with all these banks for the education of our youngsters. I think we are promoting talent here with this.”