Enabling economic mobility in rural South Africa through the Boldr BPO Academy
“By harnessing the power of BPO jobs, they are not just answering phones; they are answering the call for progress and empowerment. Their [Boldr’s] dedication to nurturing local talent and fostering economic growth is a testament to the transformative potential of business when it prioritizes people and purpose.” – Reshni Singh, CEO of BPESA
The global business process outsourcing (BPO) sector has grown exponentially in the last couple of decades. Job creation has been one of the primary driving forces to establish BPO hubs in developing countries, thereby creating an ever-present demand for skilled or experienced individuals.
However, the talent acquisition process often has specific qualifying criteria or requirements, such as Bachelor’s or University degrees. While strides have been made to reduce these systemic barriers, many candidates are unable to enter the labor market due to a severe lack of prior experience or exposure to BPO processes and practices. We saw an opportunity to address this concern in a little town in South Africa. By preparing and equipping hopeful and high-potential individuals with the necessary skills and experience, we were able to create economic mobility pathways for them where these were once limited or nonexistent.
A better understanding of South African employment
With an unemployment rate hovering between 30% and 40% for the last couple of years, South Africa continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. For the working age group of 25 to 34, unemployment is around 39%, and for ages between 15 and 24, unemployment is an estimated 60%. In other words, there is a 50% chance that someone between the ages of 15 and 34 is not working or earning an income.
For us, this presented an opportunity to affect positive change through impact sourcing and skills creation. We firmly believe that talent is everywhere, however, these unexplored talents will remain hidden unless steps are taken to equip individuals with the necessary skills. Given the rising interest in outsourcing to South Africa, this is one of the more sustainable ways that we are making an impact in one of South Africa’s disadvantaged communities.
“The BPO sector has proven to be a vital cornerstone for job creation in the Western Cape,” explains Clayton Williams, CEO of CapeBPO, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the growth and development of the South African BPO industry. “Last year alone, this dynamic industry contributed an impressive 8,000 new opportunities, underlining its pivotal role in bolstering employment and driving economic growth in the region.” In the long term, the BPO industry is expected to exponentially increase employment opportunities in South Africa by over 775,000 roles by 2030.
The Hazyview project
Hazyview is a small farming town in Mpumalanga, a Northern region in South Africa. With parts of this beautiful, rural setting virtually inaccessible, it has created logistical and supply issues for members of the community that calls Hazyview their home. The primary means of earning a living is for willing members to acquire work in the cities and then send money back to their families.
We were first drawn to Hazyview in 2022 when we partnered with the Good Work Foundation (GWF) to recruit Data Service Associates for Barksdale, one of our existing clients. Spearheaded by Jenny Reynolds, Boldr’s Impact Program Manager, the collaboration proved that impact sourcing not only uplifts communities but also allows us to connect our clients with untapped potential in time zones that favor their support strategies.
With previous employment experience being a draw for recruiters, it made sense that those with experience and who understood the industry would be attractive prospects for potential employers.
By creating a dedicated course for young people living in the surrounding area, the Boldr BPO Academy was designed to provide a supplemental three months of job readiness training for completers of a year-long Bridging Program led by GWF, our local skills training partner in Hazyview. The problem, however, is that learnerships can be exploitative, with little commitment at the end. Learnership cycles tend to churn, suiting employers who are looking for labor at a “bargain” without the promise of offering permanent employment.
Under the guidance of Jon Schneiders, Boldr’s Global Head of People Development, our team designed a comprehensive course for learners. We engaged and hired a trained facilitator to run the course on-site for our first cohort of 15. We also provided a daily stipend and transportation support for the learners to get to and from the training to ensure that they have the means to attend the course.
Jenny oversaw the launch and the progress of the project. Due to the location, connectivity remains a problem at the campus, though efforts are underway to find a long-term solution. When she visited the team during their course, she was moved by their excitement and eagerness to learn.
“We were 3 weeks into our 3-month course and the energy was amazing. The willingness to learn and the learners’ enthusiasm were palpable. There was so much positivity and gratitude for being here that it was humbling,” said Jenny.
While there, she spoke to each of the learners to get context about the community they are from, the existing job opportunities in Hazyview and the surroundings, their work and study experience, and the families they support when earning a salary. At the time, most families had to survive on Government grants to support on average 4 to 8 family members. As a result, salaries were not kept and saved but used as a means to survive.
Of the 15 qualifying learners, the oldest was 36. Older learners were grateful for the opportunity to learn and develop a new skill set because their age had previously been viewed as a barrier to entry for other jobs. Lack of opportunities has resulted in the dangerous trend of learners continuously studying to keep their minds busy but seldom putting skills into practice or growing within a specific role or company.
A bright future for Boldr’s BPO Academy
Reshni Singh, CEO of Business Process Enabling South Africa, a national trade body and industry association, responded to this initiative as transformational.
“A key focus of the Global Business Services (GBS) sector in South Africa is to play a meaningful social upliftment role by supporting industry with job creation opportunities, in particular for youth from marginalized communities,” explained Singh.
“Boldr has taken Impact Sourcing and Inclusive Hiring to heart and has shown commitment to creating real change in Hazyview. By harnessing the power of BPO jobs, they are not just answering phones; they are answering the call for progress and empowerment. Their dedication to nurturing local talent and fostering economic growth is a testament to the transformative potential of business when it prioritizes people and purpose. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future, one call at a time.”
We were thrilled that, while still in training, all 15 learners received a salaried seasonal contract with Barksdale from 21 August to 5 November, which only advances their experience level and cements the training they have received. Gauging the early success of the 2023 project, we will launch another course in January 2024.
“There is no doubt that Boldr’s presence in Hazyview will change lives dramatically,” Jenny concluded. “We do this by giving hope, work experience, the potential for people to realize their dreams, salaries to support extended family members, and a profound sense of purpose and growth.”
As an ethical outsourcing company and a B Corp, we continue on our journey of making a difference in the communities we operate in, whether through impact sourcing, skills creation, or outreach initiatives that will benefit everyone. However, we can only accomplish this ideal with the help and contribution of our values-aligned clients and valuable team members.
James Fouche is the Content Manager at Boldr, as well as an author and a columnist. He is passionate about sharing his love of reading and writing with others.