As BPO in Jamaica becomes more popular with the local population, US provider Ibex is leveraging that fresh interest with another new center in Kingston.
Since launching in Portmore with 720 seats in July 2016, Ibex added another 400 to the same center in September, before opening a 1,000-seat facility in Kingston as the company’s Caribbean headquarters. By the end of September, 2018, Ibex will have opened another center with 750 seats in New Kingston, thanks to a new blue chip client in the logistics and transportation industry.
So how, in a market of many established BPOs, is Ibex able to fill those seats, and what problems has the company faced in its two short years in Jamaica? We caught up with CEO Bob Dechant to find out.
Nearshore Americas: Since opening your Kingston HQ, what have been the main hurdles that you’ve encountered?
Bob Dechant: One of the biggest challenges has been the time it has taken for local investors, such as real estate and development companies and financial institutions, to realize that the BPO industry and the jobs created by the sector are exceptional. For this reason, the country has been slow in creating world-class centers that rival what is available in the Philippines, but that gap is now closing fast.
Our strategy for getting around this is to bring partners and potential partners to Ibex, see the level of employee engagement first hand, witness people working in a learning environment that is fun, and see the ecosystem that we are creating.
Nearshore Americas: Why is Ibex not expanding in Montego Bay?
Bob Dechant: The workforce is more corporate-focused in the Kingston area, and you have to worry about the tourism industry impacting the sector. With the hotels and resorts in Montego Bay, pay rates are higher than in BPO, and there a lot of jobs and seasonality from the tourism industry, which attracts more folks.
Our hope is to open up in Montego Bay by July 2019, as we are spending time looking at new areas, so we will likely open there, but not to the same extent.
Nearshore Americas: What level of interest are you seeing from candidates, and how are you attracting agents amid such fierce competition?
Bob Dechant: There are currently 4,000 candidates that want to work for us in the new center, possessing a range of skills sets. Around 2,500 of them are classified in the “high-testing” brackets of English, with more than 75% of them at B to C level testing. In Jamaica as a whole, we expect to be at 5,000 jobs inside 2 years.
Watch: Applicants line up to get work at the new center in New Kingston.
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With many of the mature outsourcers in the industry, with 25+ years of outsourcing, clients are continually looking to insurgent companies as alternatives, and are far more interested in the nearshore market as an alternative to the offshore market. Ibex Jamaica is resonating well, and we’ve been able to fill those centers with companies like that: four or five big marquee logos looking for innovative, leaned-in companies like Ibex.
We also help both employees and clients understand the Ibex culture and the culture of BPO, taking the top performers on special events and giving clients a chance to participate, which creates interest in investing and shows how the island could be transformed.
Nearshore Americas: How are you confronting the issue of the lack of middle management, and what are you doing to train for it?
Bob Dechant: We have placed a larger emphasis on leadership development internally, but it is still early days. Since we launched, we have seen such rapid growth that we haven’t had enough trajectory to measure how successful our management training programs have been, but as we look over the next couple of years we expect to have much better data on it.
We are home-growing people with our Ibex-led training, but also augmenting it with Nearshore-savvy people from other Caribbean and Latin American countries, as opposed to relying on expats from the US. Some of those markets are developing really good talent, especially Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
Jamaican BPO had a false start for the first 10 years, so the sector is still relatively new in my opinion. When you look at the Philippines, which has been in the industry for more than 20 years, there has been no need to bring in expats. With Jamaica experiencing explosive BPO growth in the past few years, there has been that need, but it is not good to bring expats into the market – for new graduates who have grown in the market, they need to see that a management role in BPO a good career choice, and not populated solely by expats.
Nearshore Americas: Can you provide examples of how Jamaica’s wider population has started to embrace BPO?
Bob Dechant: There are now real estate partners that have investment funds and are investing in buildings to convert them into BPO facilities – Usain Bolt, the Olympic gold medalist, is also investing into various centers, as he understands what is going on.
The country’s investment promotions agency, Jampro, held two BPO events this year, which have now started to attract financial institutions, not just BPO execs, who are listening and learning what they can about the sector because they see the value it can bring.
We have been able to source funds from a local bank, which would not have happened five years ago. The owner of the new Kingston center was in the hotel business, and was initially averse to turning it into a BPO center, but then saw the benefits of young workers, great brands, good shops, restaurants, and bringing people to the hotels he owned, which really helps with the sector’s reputation.
Nearshore Americas: How successful is Heart-Trust/NTA in its plans to grow the sector? What could it do better?
Bob Dechant: Heart-Trust/NTA has been creating a curriculum around call centers and BPO, helping to developing facilities, technologies, and instructors to benefit the sector.
With them, we have been able to build a pipeline of good candidates that have solid work and attendance habits, helping to build a really good bench.
However, things could move a little faster, not just with Heart-Trust/NTA, but also with Ibex – we need to help accelerate the process as we spend so much time training and recruiting, but we plan to be more engaged.
The biggest challenge is, when there is so much growth, there is less time to focus on these kinds of things.
Nearshore Americas: Jamaica is also trying to grow its talent pool in IT and digital technology. Is Ibex helping with this, or intending to leverage that talent?
Bob Dechant: In Jamaica, we incubated the “Acquire” side of Ibex for about a year, and found success in creating a digital marketing team of around 75 to 80 people, which we are getting ready to double down on.
These guys effectively run a digital agency for a brand, working on things like SEO and website administration, as well as finding incremental subscribers or customers for our clients that they might not necessarily be getting.
Jamaicans have great language skills and an affinity to the US that makes it easier to sell to the market.
In the end, Nearshore been growing at greater than 30% for years, so there are tens of thousands of jobs that have to be created to service this updraft. The challenge is making a major dent in that, and Jamaica could do that.