The ability to find qualified and language-proficient workers is a very big deal when you’re trying to sustain or expand an outsourcing operation. The pursuit of talent is the force that drives the nearshoring engine, and there are always going to be debates about the next hot spot where great talent and attractive wages converge. Julio Mosquera-Stanziola, Sitel‘s Regional HR Director for Latin American Operations is an expert at finding the next great talent pool – so we decided to find out what he thinks about the current market. Hear why he thinks Chile, Colombia and Nicaragua are leading destinations in Latin America… and more.
How does Sitel go about finding skilled workers? Tell us about your recruitment process, and how you make sure you’re hiring the most qualified and skilled workers in any given country.
The first and foremost thing we do in any country is build relationships with the government and with the community, and create a strong image in the media. We attract people by not giving the impression of being a typical call center, but rather a preferred employer. Once we’ve done that and we get candidates in the door, we follow a simple but thorough screening process that involves telephone interviews, testing for language as well as other skills, and face to face interviews from both an HR and an operations perspective.
To hire consistently qualified workers, we use what’s called a Profile Builder. It creates a profile of the type of employee we want to hire, based on successful associates in different positions already within Sitel. We then measure all candidates against those successful profiles, and they will test to either match up or not. So that’s how we make sure we’re selecting the right person for the job consistently.
Which markets or countries are the most competitive in Latin America in terms of labor? Are there any that you find are not up to the mark in terms of meeting the demand of international companies?
Right now Mexico is extremely competitive and it’s becoming more difficult to find qualified labor because there are a lot of competitors looking for the same talent. Panama is very similar, but oddly enough it’s not call center companies competing against each other but other industries, as jobs are more sought after in the hospitality or banking industry than in outsourcing.
If we look at Brazil, I wouldn’t say it is saturated, but it’s a market in which finding more of a specialized skill set is difficult. However since Brazil supports Portuguese more than anything else, it’s easier to find labor since there is less competition and a large workforce. Nicaragua is also blossoming in terms of labor. There are many new competitors coming in now, but we’re still finding a lot of qualified people to work in our centers there.
In Chile I think Sitel has one of the best public images – people really want to come work for us. In Colombia similarly, we just opened a bilingual account and it’s doing well. We earlier completed a market study to determine whether we have the capability to support that account, and we found that bilingual operations are very sustainable in Colombia. So in Latin America I would say that the best locations for Spanish call center work would be Chile and Colombia, and Nicaragua for English. Of course I’m speaking solely in the field of call centers and BPO, not IT.
Many sourcing companies fly in managers from the US or India to handle new operations until their Latin American counterparts are trained at a sufficient level of experience. Is that often the case for Sitel? What is the level of managerial expertise you find in your LatAm locations?
For Sitel it’s a healthy mix of expats and locals, and the reason is we want to make sure that expats who bring in experience of how the business works can be paired up with Latin American counterparts who provide good local support and know how the local culture works.
We do believe in local talent, but what we find especially in countries where the industry is young is that the management is not as developed as we need them to be in order to be successful. So very often we bring in someone for one or two years to develop the operation after which someone locally can take over. This is how it works in all our Latin American centers.
From the perspective of a multinational sourcing company, how should a country’s government or investment promo agency go about meeting the demand for skilled labor?
Governments can do a much better job of providing incentives to companies, both from a labor law perspective as well as simply improving the quality of people available to us. If governments were more engaged in building up the industry and workforce alongside us, there would be many more people that could potentially be absorbed by sourcing companies. To give you an example, Sitel employs 11000 people all over Latin America – all of them have good careers, and are paid above minimum wage in every country. I’d say providing incentives for companies like ours and investing more in education for the public are the best ways for governments to meet the growing demand from the call center industry.
Another aspect that’s sometimes overlooked is the image of the sourcing industry. Why I say that is because in some LatAm countries there’s almost a negative stigma associated with call centers – Guatemala is one example. As certain companies started coming in, they built a reputation for the sweatshop type of business, and that image stuck. So now anytime a new company tries to locate there, the cost of public relations and changing the perception of the company is enormous. It’s a huge risk to try and change that image, and potentially fail. But governments and IPAs could be very helpful in recreating how people see the sourcing industry.
What are the biggest challenges that Sitel has encountered in finding quality talent in Latin America?
Our biggest challenge is definitely retaining the talent that we hire – and this is something that not just Sitel but I think every BPO company faces. Many people come into our centers looking for a career, and they get it. For example around 90% of our managers today used to be agents on the floor, so there are opportunities to grow. It’s not a problem tied to low wages or lack of motivation, but has more to do with opportunities outside the industry. The question is, how do we compete not against another call center, but against the large banks or large hotels? This is the case in Panama as I mentioned before, and also in Costa Rica.
We currently have a good formula to keep our attrition low, and that has a lot to do with management style and providing the right opportunities for people. But with all the programs we have internally to promote learning and career growth, we still lose workers to other industries.
What are Sitel’s plans for the coming year? Are you looking to expand into any new geographies?
We have centers in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama, and we’re currently in the process of expanding within all of those geographies. I feel that each of those areas has a lot more to offer. We are at this moment ramping up services for different clients, and will continue to maximize our operations throughout Latin America. We’re becoming more adept at bringing in clients that are a better fit for the cultures as well as the skill levels that we’re finding – it allows us to keep our clients satisfied.
We’re continuing to explore other markets in the region, but I cannot confirm plans for expansion within the next year.