Nearshore Americas

Colombia’s BPO Industry Hampered by a Shortage of Bilingual Workers: Report

Colombia’s outsourcing industry has generated thousands of jobs but only 6% of BPO firms in the South American country are able to provide services in foreign languages, a joint study by the Colombian Commerce Ministry and market analyst firm IDC has found.

“One of the great challenges facing the sector is the lack of bilingualism,” said Camilo Montes, CEO of the Productive Transformation Program (PTP), a government initiative launched to assist the country’s Education Department to generate skilled labor.

The industry – which primarily serves clients in the United States, Spain and Chile – generated 9.7 billion pesos (about US$5 million) in 2012, accounting for 1.4% of Colombia’s GDP, according to the report. But across the country, the report says, BPO companies are finding it increasingly difficult to hire bilingual workers.

Aligned with several foreign academies, the PTP is building what it calls “a bureau of bilingualism,” particularly for teaching English. Given the growing need for English speakers, bilingual employees stand to earn 50% more than other workers.

Some organizations are providing English training to students studying in public schools in Bogota. Trainees are then offered jobs in industrial parks where the majority of foreign outsourcing firms operate.

Convergys, Bilateral, Teleperformance and Sutherland are among the major BPO firms operating in Bogota. From 2006 to 2011, the BPO non-voice sector grew at a rate of 17%, and generated revenues estimated at US$2.7 million for the city, according to Invest in Bogota.

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In 2012, BPO firms operating in Colombia made US$2.5 billion in annual revenue, an increase of 78% over 2010. BPO exports grew 77% between 2010 and 2012, according to a past report from the Colombian Association of Contact Centers and BPO (ACDCB) and ANDI.

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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