Venezuela’s socio-economic implosion has caused an estimated five million people to flee their home country, with many crossing the western border into Colombia. As the Colombian government takes steps to integrate migrants into the local economy, the private sector is playing its part and offering migrants jobs in the booming BPO industry.
“What we’re seeing today is the result of the work of various governments, public-private partnerships and a clear understanding of the BPO sector’s relevance,” said Mauricio Velásquez, managing director at Bogota-based Velásquez & Company.
“There is a historic connection between the two countries but the high levels of unemployment in the Venezuelan community was becoming a domestic social issue for Colombia. We also needed to take advantage of all the people coming with technical capabilities and skills,” he added.
Colombia supports 13.1% of BPO sales in the region, ranking third in A.T. Kearney’s Latin America service location indicator. Through constant government support, a strategic geographic location and the ability to leverage the local cost of human resources to compete with other markets, Colombia is positioning itself as an increasingly attractive jurisdiction for the industry.
The country’s success in the BPO sector is symptomatic of the industry’s wider regional and global growth. However, Colombia’s particular conditions, including an investor-friendly regulatory framework and a large work force — which has been enriched by the recent influx of migrants and refugees — makes it more competitive.
An initiative by Tent Partnership for Refugees, IAOP, the global BPO association, and BPrO, the Colombian BPO association, is facilitating the hiring of Venezuelan refugees, allowing the BPO sector to lead the way in integrating Venezuelan migrants into Colombia’s workforce.
“Over the last five years, Colombia has welcomed about two million Venezuelans who have fled their country due to economic turmoil and insecurity. While both the Colombian government and the private sector have shown great leadership in welcoming Venezuelans, these refugees still face steep barriers to the job market. The BPO sector is one of Colombia’s leading industries and is growing at a fast rate; we felt there was a huge opportunity for BPO firms to show their support for Venezuelan refugees and double down on their efforts to integrate them,” said Yaron Schwartz, Lead of BPO Initiative, Tent Partnership for Refugees.
For Debi Hamill, CEO of the IAOP, it is important to promote impact sourcing as a business model, particularly because experiences like this one in Colombia have a lot of potential to help refugees globally by integrating them into their new communities. Nine BPO firms, including Sitel Group, Alorica and Sutherland have joined the pledge to create thousands of jobs for Venezuelans.
“The BPO industry has hired a considerable number of Venezuelans refugees. In the specific case of Sitel, we are constantly growing and looking for the best talent in the market,” said Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, director of human resources for Sitel Colombia.
The introduction of Venezuelans to Colombia’s labor force also increases the capabilities of various industries, including BPO, to address its own shortcomings. Despite Colombia’s growth as a Nearshore provider in the region, the industry still faces important challenges. Staff turnover and lack of the necessary bilingualism remain key obstacles for the BPO sector.
“We’ve found that Venezuelans have great language skills and strong technical backgrounds. Language skills is the main thing we look for. We are a customer experience management company and we hire mostly customer solutions agents. Although a lot of them are highly-skilled professionals that used to have a career in their home country,” Gonzalez added.
Colombian authorities have been closely involved with the industry, investing heavily to enhance the country’s position. The current administration in Colombia included the BPO industry as one of a dozen prioritized sectors to invest in order to increase productivity and competitiveness. “The government has understood the relevance of programs oriented to improve language skills but also the strategic need to expand the technological knowledge of the population. There is still some work to do,” said Velásquez.
New Ways of Recruiting
In spite of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which produced a 6.8% GDP contraction in Colombia in 2020, the BPO industry is set for growth. The BPO sector is an essential part of Colombia’s economic reactivation, boosting job creation and service exports. By the end of 2020, the sector — including domestic as well as exported services – amounted to more than 605,000 jobs, 20,000 of those were created during the pandemic.
“Traditional industries have suffered during the pandemic, but this sector is experiencing growth. Employers are learning how to recruit and expand employment options across the country,” said Velásquez.
For investors and employers, the expansion of remote work brought the option to modernize recruitment processes. “The pandemic forced all of us to innovate and grow. We had three sites at the beginning of 2020, now there is this possibility to expand to other cities. More importantly we learned how to recruit and engage employees in a virtual way,” added Gonzalez.
While Colombia remains a hotspot for investment in telecommunications and in technology-based services, as a result of trained professionals and an already existing quality technological infrastructure, the country is well positioned to take advantage of various digital transformations processes accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Colombia’s connectivity situation is very advantageous. But we are now finally seeing the full potential of it. With things like remote work, companies in the sector will seek out talent and build teams everywhere,” Velásquez said.