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Financial Services
Monday, July 27, 2015 - 16:27
Youthful opportunity

As South Africa celebrates Youth month, it would seem that there is simply no disguising South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis and the misery that it brings for so many young people and their families. South Africa has the third highest unemployment rate in the world for people between the ages of 15 to 24, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk 2014 report, which also states that more than 50% of young South Africans between 15 and 24 are unemployed. Only Greece and Spain have higher unemployment in this age range than SA.

In the midst of seemingly insurmountable challenges, South Africa’s burgeoning call centre industry brings with it the means of providing young job seekers with access to decent work, skills training, work experience, further specialised education for those who put in the hours and effort, as well as economic and social relief for many South African families. But it’s not an industry for the faint of heart or for anyone looking for an easy ride.
Call centres are at best pressured work environments and, in particular, outbound call centres focused on sales demand candidates who have a great attitude, a solid work ethic focussed on service and an insatiable desire to outperform their own targets, and that of their peers. Demand for both entry and management level call centre employees is growing as companies – both local and global - refocus on their core business, outsourcing those processes that are better handled by call centres, as for example, sales, customer enquiries, policy administration, claims fulfilment and so on.
“South Africa is ideally positioned for call centre activity because of its infrastructure, stable investment environment, large talent pool and time zone,” says Dirk van den Berg, Chief Operating Officer of O’Keeffe & Swartz, an outbound call centre specialising in the sale of simple insurance products.
For a self-starter, this is an industry where value is placed on aptitude and attitude, rather than formal tertiary qualifications, which for many young South Africans remain painfully out of reach. In its 2013 financial year alone, O’Keeffe & Swartz employed 1 248 previously disadvantaged young South Africans who found gainful career opportunities with the company, selling simple insurance products covering almost two million South African lives. 
“We sell over 30 000 insurance policies every month on behalf of our clients, using direct marketing methods. Our clients include the major banks and insurance companies in South Africa, and for the young people who join our business, it’s an incredible experience of the inner workings of some of South Africa’s largest corporates, as well as the insurance industry which is growing in response to South Africa’s emerging middle class,” adds Van den Berg.
“Typically for most of our agents it’s their first exposure to the working world. Once they have made it through the initial assessments, they will undergo a month of intensive training covering sales techniques, product training, compliance training and finally testing of their newly acquired skills before they make their first sales call,” he explains.
Granted, it’s an industry with a high turnover of staff as many see it simply as a stepping stone to get experience and then move on. Secondly, and probably most pertinent, sales is a tough task master. Call Centres are typically fast-paced environments, more so outbound sales call centres. New agents who find they aren’t cut out for the job usually do so very quickly, but people who do well in this kind of environment and are motivated by the pressure, thrive and so do their careers. Staff churn in the call centre environment is traditionally high. Agents who have a natural ability for sales and the ability to shake off a significant amount of rejection generally stay in the environment as they thrive on the challenge to boost their income potential, rather than be limited by a fixed pay cheque every month.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:28.7 1st July, 2015
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