Call center boom could further fuel SA economy

Von Nicolas Callegari

According to the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (GEDA), the SA call center industry has evolved rapidly, growing by 100 percent in the last two years.

Mitial International, a call center research specialist, also indicates that call center operations in Gauteng, which already contains 60 percent of the industry, are expected to grow by 40 percent in the next six months, and to double within the next four years. The Cape has also been flagged as a preferred location for outsourced call centers.

However, the question remains as to whether SA?s heavily-regulated telecoms industry has put the sector behind the rest of the world, and whether this would have an impact on the country?s competitiveness on an international level, with countries such as India and Ireland also being considered as favorable destinations.

A factor counting hugely in SA?s favor is that it has an encouraging atmosphere, with lower interest rates and lower inflation, which is a good platform for business growth. Other factors in SA?s favor include the cultural similarities to Europe and the number of language groups to which SA can cater.

?In addition,? says Peter de Lange, services manager at Kathea Communications, ?the liberalization in the local telecoms industry is definitely a plus, allowing businesses to investigate the use of alternative technologies such as Voice over IP (VoIP).?

De Lange agrees that there will be steady growth in the local call center market, although maybe not as high as Mitial or GEDA may be predicting, and that the economic impact on SA will be very positive.

?Trends in SA normally follow trends overseas,? he says, ?and the trend overseas is showing that it is far easier to go to market with a product or service over the phone (through a call center) than with people on the road.?

Locally, he says, combined with the chronic unemployment rate and historical lower levels of education amongst the majority of the population, government agrees that call centers present a great opportunity to offer employment and promote foreign investment.

To date, there are some 47,000 call center seats in SA and 79 000 people employed in the local call center industry, Mitial says, and these figures are set to grow as more international companies outsource their call centers to SA.