Developing South Africa as a destination of choice for the international call centre industry is a priority of the South African Government. But as the industry grew and Government focused on developing skills through the Services Seta programmes, many long-established call centre employees were left out in the cold as their experience was not recognised. Mandy Venter, CEO of IPT, explains: “Originally, when the call centre industry started, there were no qualifications. Everyone qualified by experience. But in 2003, the Services Seta started rolling out their first programmes and new entrants came into the market and received a qualification through these programmes.
This created a lot of pressure in the system, whereby staff members who had been working for 10 years in the contact centre industry didn’t have a piece of paper to show for it.When they saw the opportunities new entrants were being given, they started asking, ‘What about us?’ They had qualified by experience and could do the work just as well as the people with the certificates.” It was in this gap that Venter identified a business opportunity. She set about developing recognition of prior learning tools that could be used to assess the competence of contact centre employees in order to give them a certificate. Today IPT is the official certification partner for the contact centre industry. Venter explains the company’s role in this regard: “We test a person’s competence against a qualification without regard for where they got the skill. If they can prove they are competent against the qualification, they can get the same certificate as their colleagues. It gives people credit for what they already have.” Not only does this benefit the individuals who receive the qualification, it also benefits the entire contact centre industry in South Africa. Venter explains: “The qualification is internationally recognised. The cost of telecommunications and skills are the two things that international investors find problematic when deciding whether to set up contact centres in South Africa. We can now staff their call centres with people who have an internationally recognised qualification, which really advances South Africa’s position in the industry.”
One of Venter’s biggest challenges was overcoming people’s lack of understanding about the Seta system and the nature of the funding vehicle. “It means interpreting a lot of legislation and our biggest barrier to entry was getting clients to understand the system,” she says. The beauty of the programme, adds Venter, is that companies get grants for existing employees who are services levy payers. It is these grants that fund the training. “We can give company employees a qualification that companies don’t need to pay for and they are entitled to a R50 000 tax benefit as a reduction,” she explains. IPT’s fees are paid for out of the Seta’s grants. Unpacking the legislation in an easy-to-understand format was the key to securing clients. Part of the company’s client attraction strategy was to target companies that IPT knew were services levy payers who could benefit from the programme. “Once the penny dropped, it was hard for them to resist putting not 100 but 1 000 people on the programme!” recalls Venter. IPT now lists the Dialogue Group, Calling the Cape, Kelly, Phone House, Direct Axis, Emmanuels, Coega and Digital Solutions, among many others, as clients. Venter concludes by pointing out the enormous growth potential that exists for SMEs in all industries who use Setas to their benefit. “SMEs are usually the ones who have the least money to spend on training, but by becoming levy payers, they can benefit in the way their clients do by having their staff certified,” she says. In an economic climate where skills open doors, she makes a good point. Contact: +27 11 234 9971, www.ipt.org.za
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