Vaz confident BPO sector will rebound despite COVID-19 losses

THE business process outsourcing sector has suffered losses of US$42 million over the past few months, as a result of restrictions imposed by the Government to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Daryl Vaz made the announcement in Parliament on Tuesday during his 2020-21 sectoral presentation in the House of Representatives.

However, he said despite the closure of call centres on April 22 following the COVID-19 outbreak at Alorica call centre in St Catherine, and the resultant drop in revenues, the BPO sector has managed to retain more than 33,000 workers and is moving to see how best it can retrieve approximately 7,000 jobs.

Vaz also noted that the work-from-home arrangements for about 40 per cent of call centre agents will end on August 31.

Meanwhile, the Government minister said the sector could still return to its pre-COVID-19 growth trajectory of 5,000 to 6,000 jobs per year, with adherence to training, promotion, policy, and health guidelines, as well as if new business can be secured, while also scaling up existing operations.

“All being equal, we expect to see a rebound in the sector by the end of the 2021 fiscal year, with a move towards the original projection of 50,000 jobs by March 2022,” he said.

He pointed out, however, that the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) has noted that growth is contingent on the recovery of the United States, which is the sector’s main market. Vaz noted, too, that a proposal is to be advanced by the GSAJ for about 20 to 30 per cent of the global services sector workforce to be supported in a virtual special economic zone.

Vaz also told the House of Representatives that since the full implementation of the revamped Credit Enhancement Facility (CEF), 12 financial institutions — including microfinance entities — have signed on and have committed to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with loans backed by over $10 billion in guarantees during the the current fiscal year.

The CEF aims to minimise the risk exposure associated with small business lending and acts as an incentive to financial institutions to increase MSME lending – enabling those with viable projects to get additional collateral support. It also facilitates the acceptance of non-traditional collateral by financial institutions. The CEF business model was revised from an individual scheme – in which individual guarantees are processed by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) – to a portfolio scheme in which the processing of guarantees is delegated to each approved financial institution based on an annual portfolio allocation, the minister explained.

He said the DBJ has also increased the volume of micro loans to the sector, totalling up to $2,421 million, and successfully implemented the Jamaica Business Fund, which facilitated $427 million in investments in 18 supply chains, benefiting 308 MSMEs.

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