Merchants Brings Contact Center to Soweto Community

Business process outsourcing (BPO) company Merchants officially launched its new contact center in Jabulani, Soweto yesterday.

The contact center, according to Merchants, is the result of a public-private partnership and year-long collaboration with Amandla Social Enterprisesthe Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

Speaking at the launch event yesterday, Merchants MD Zain Patel said development is not about having a contact center in a township, but about social impact and change that businesses can participate in.

“When I think about what Jabulani and this contact center mean to us, it’s hugely important because it’s a catalyst for change; not just for those who work there, but for the community itself – these are learning capabilities for the community and to expand digital capabilities for everyone.

“This is a first for traders and we hope it won’t be the last.”

Located behind the Jabulani Mall, the contact center is a start in the journey towards creating an ecosystem where people don’t have to travel long distances to work, Patel noted.

The recruitment process for the center was facilitated by Merchants’ MyCalling platform, which matches job seekers with suitable roles through behavioral profiling rather than traditional factors such as education level.

The contact center is home to 75 agents, with another 21 agents working from home. In total, it employs 96 agents, whose average age is between 20 and 25 years old.

Merchant Agents provide customer service and back-office and front-office support to Makro customers from the establishment.

Patel said: “Soweto is capable of providing services as good as any major metropolis and we hope it will become what we want it to be in different geographies – parts of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and also from KwaZulu-Natal.

“Providing jobs to communities is part of building South Africa’s success and solving the unemployment problems we face as a country.”

Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment in South Africa has increased at alarming rates and young people remain vulnerable in the labor market, with an unemployment rate above the national average.

The official unemployment rate was 33.9% in the second quarter of 2022, according to Stats SA, with the youth unemployment rate at 46.5%. Soweto, which has 40% of Johannesburg’s population, suffers from 53% unemployment.

Given the rise in unemployment, South Africa’s BPO sector, also known as the Global Business Services (GBS) sector, has been singled out as a catalyst in tackling unemployment, especially among local young people.

Additionally, the South African BPO market is expected to reach $3.6 billion by 2027, growing by 13.2% over this period.

Dr Sydwell Shikweni, Chief Transformation Officer at Merchants, points out that the BPO sector has created 40,000 jobs in the South African economy since 2018.

“The BPO industry is an important industry for job creation in South Africa because we can hire impact workers who have no previous experience or tertiary education, and groom them to be successful, equipping them with important skills like problem solving, empathy and interpersonal communication.

“We are both proud and excited to add this new center to our network, as we continue to work hard to build a strong talent pipeline for the country.”

Shikweni said Merchants had decided on a township strategy as one of the priority areas of its business, adding that the Soweto contact center was a first for the BPO company.

“We decided to do this because it’s a social imperative…we look at our employees: where do they come from, where do they live, etc.? If we consider where our employees come from, the majority comes from the townships.

“We considered that we had to make a significant contribution to the economic development of our cantons, where people come from. For example, if an employee stays in Soweto and works in Randburg, he must take two or three taxis to get to work. If we localize our operations… we bring the office closer to home and that makes such a difference in terms of commuting time to work.

Merchants is not the first BPO specialist to provide contact center solutions from a township. Last year, Sigma launched its first contact center in the Cape Flats area in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.

Social impact collaboration

Florian Zech, Founder and Co-CEO of Amandla Social Enterprises, expressed his excitement at seeing this center become operational.

“Everything we do at Amandla is about making access to opportunity fairer for young people. This center will do just that – and it’s made possible because dedicated partners have decided to put their talent and resources behind an ambitious vision for thriving township economies.

Carey Lucas-Jooste, Head of Innovation at DBSA, added, “The launch of the center is a great example of how partnerships and collaboration can unlock sustainability solutions that provide spaces within communities. underserved for economic inclusion.

“The BPO sector is a key focus area for the DLABS program nationwide, and this collaboration with Amandla and Merchants, along with the support of Harambee and PPGI, is helping the needle move to prosperity. shared.”

The Gauteng Provincial Government believes that the expansion of the GBS sector in the townships will create decentralized employment opportunities and foster an inclusive economy.

Additionally, job seekers will receive practical on-the-job training and learn the soft skills needed to navigate the modern workplace. The contact centers will open up opportunities to work with international companies and receive remote work, according to Gauteng MEC Parks Tau.

“Gauteng has already rolled out GBS infrastructure projects. Additional opportunities have been identified in other cantons to attract more national and international GBS operators. We are well on our way to implementing pragmatic programs and projects that aim to deliver shared prosperity to citizens and communities in the Gauteng City region. »

Shikweni concludes: “We believe this project is a real opportunity for other South African companies to participate in this change and jointly invest in the economy of the township and the communities where their goods and services are used.

“As a BPO provider, we are well placed to help others become part of the solution to creating jobs for our young people in South Africa.”