The conflict between wanting to drive greater expansion in BPO in Latin America and the hard realities of a limited labor pool was cited as one of the region’s biggest obstacles during an interview with Sitel CEO Burt Quintana, recently in Managua, Nicaragua. “There is a population here that is ready and hungry,” Quintana said, who was the keynote speaker at the first annual Central America Nearshore Summit, hosted by ProNicaragua.
Quintana, a long time Americas’ ICT executive who was instrumental in developing Dell’s well-known operations in Panama dating back to the early 2000s, used the event to call on the industry to work more closely together and he pointed particularly at government institutions for their role and responsibility in developing qualified labor in the region. The evolution of the contact center is increasingly requiring employers to hire professionals with the ‘ability to connect’ with customers and have the capacity to make quick, personal judgments. “The skill level of the labor force is really important… this is not a mechanical job. It requires more and more interaction. The call center of the past is changing and it’s not about whether the agent has command of simple English.”
Sitel’s Latin America operations include centers in Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Panama, which means of the one-billion customer contacts made per year, about 10 percent are handled from LATAM. Clearly, Quintana, who two years ago became Chief Executive of Sitel (which results largely from a merger with ClientLogic in 2007) has a firm belief that LATAM can do so much more, but like countless other leaders in IT and BPO in the region – he too recognizes it can be an arduous process to compel entrenched political institutions to generate the momentum to build transformative programs that push youths into professional services.
In one-on-one discussions with Quintana he revealed a particular bullishness on Colombia, where Sitel has an operation in Bogota. “The population there is terrific,” he said. He went on to note that the firm keeps a keen eye on other countries in the region, including Guatamala and Honduras.
“This region could be a lot more nimble and a lot more innovative,” said Quintana, noting that one of the key reasons he agreed to keynote the Central America Nearshore Summit, was to demonstrate Sitel’s commitment to the region, while also pointing to one of its biggest challenges.
Interestingly, Quintana is not giving up on the prospect of Cuba (the country where he was born and left at the age of two), rising to become a center for nearshore services. “The education level is remarkable… taxi drivers there will talk to you about the great works of Van Gogh.”
As many know, Sitel is unfraid of being a first mover – and should a true window of opportunity arise in Cuba (should the U.S. embargo eventually be removed), we would have little doubt that Sitel would be one of the first to boldly set up new operations there.