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From outsourcing to ‘upsourcing’: Jamaica making pitch to upscale sector

Jamaica’s outsourcing sector has quadrupled the number of jobs in a decade, but it still has a far way to go to reposition as a market for higher-end services.

Currently, basic business process outsourcing, or BPO, segment accounts for 75 per cent of operations; whereas IT outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing and other ‘value-added’ activity accounts for just one quarter, according to new information from Jampro Vice-President of Marketing and Opportunity Packaging Gabriel Heron.

Still, it’s an improvement on the 80:20 split that the Inter-American Development had cited during the pandemic, while noting that the sector had unfulfilled promise.

All the services together are now bundled under the heading of the global services sector, or GSS, following the initial rebranding of the sector in a Jampro-led initiative several years ago.

Now, the state-run marketing agency is taking another stab at repositioning the outsourcing market for business through a new brand image, Upsource Jamaica, launched one week ago.

“Jamaica is at the cusp of massive expansion if we go up the value chain in the same way that Poland has,” Heron said in an interview with the Financial Gleaner.

“We have a good way to go in terms of moving up the value chain. However, 10 years ago the target was 15,000 workers for BPO. Nobody thought we would get to 60,000,” he said.

But that is where Jamaica is today.

Now, Jampro is looking at a new goal.

“Doubling that would seem far-fetched, but the type of jobs is expanding to include a huge range of jobs in the technology space – coding and web development included,” Heron said, in an indication that Jampro thinks 120,000 jobs is doable for the sector within the medium to long term.

Jampro unveiled the ‘re-imagined outsourcing proposition’ to entrepreneurs, business leaders and executives from multinational corporations, global start-ups, and trade promotion organisations during the Outsource to Latin America and the Caribbean Global Digital Services Summit, also known as O2LAC, from June 14 to 15 in Montego Bay.

Heron said Jampro has already created a website for Upsource Jamaica .

“The main concept is ‘You can outsource to play – as in play within the game of business – but you have to upsource to win’. Upsource, Jamaica, is how that tagline ends, he said.

“We have created a distinction for Jamaica as an upsourcing brand. This builds on our cultural affinity to North American nations and our nearness to market. What is also recognised is the strength, intelligence, and wit of Jamaicans,” he added.

Jamaica’s GSS is made up of 91 companies that account for 60,200 jobs.

“Outsourcing is an export of services. For every person directly employed there are two others hired indirectly, and it contributes significantly to GDP. There is a whole revenue ecosystem,” Heron noted.

He had no specific timeline for doubling the employment in the sector, but said Jamaica was targeting multinationals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to outsource to Jamaica or relocate their entire IT and knowledge process outsourcing support operations.

To support this, he noted, there is a tripartite effort by HEART/NSTA Trust, the Ministry of Education and IDB-funded government projects to train existing and new workers for the sector in coding, accounting, web development, financial analysis, and other areas.

“The GSS has become such an important revenue earner it is important to create a niche for Jamaica as a strong and viable destination. Just as how we have a tourism brand, we need to establish a brand for the outsourcing sector, so that when a multinational wants to shift marketing, animation generation, accounting, web development they think of Jamaica,” he said.

“There is a challenge in terms of getting quality workers in the space,” Heron acknowledged.

“But there is a concerted effort to continually upskill the workforce. HEART, Jampro and the Ministry of Education will produce a pipeline. We expect 15,000 graduates per year,” he added.

Currently, the firms that engage in the higher-end as well as BPO services include Sutherland, Ibex and Sagility.

“There is an improvement in the value of high-level services, such as web development, coding, financial analysis, market research, and accounting,” said Heron.

He added that the ratio of BPO to value-added services was likely to improve further to 60:40, with BPO still dominant.

“In my estimation we will get there in two or three years,” he said, while noting that the responsiveness of employees to training and competitive pay befitting the new skills levels were crucial to that goal.

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