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Juan Pablo Ruiz

This is an English translation of the original article in Spanish. Original article in La Répùblica – Empleo y BPO, July 9th 2021.

In February 2020, the month before the virus arrived in Colombia, 65,000 people there lost their jobs, according to Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE)*. This figure, which contributed to a deterioration in Colombia’s labor market, led to an unemployment rate of 12.2%, 40 basis points higher than the rate registered in the same period in 2019. In simple terms, Colombia entered the pandemic with double-digit unemployment; a problem that had already made the local media agenda and was a blight on the only economy in the region that, in 2019, managed to grow by more than 3%.

However, as is well known, the pandemic took the local market crisis one step higher. The figure for May 2020 stood at 21.4%, more than double the 10.5% recorded a year earlier, and drastically higher than the 19.8% recorded in April of that year.

Although the employment rate has rebounded significantly during the 16 months of the pandemic, the situation in Colombia continues to be very serious, as was evident in the recent social unrest. The latest statistics from DANE show that the unemployment rate in May was 15.6%, with 3.79 million people unemployed and 20.47 million employed.

In this context, and as we seek to strengthen the most influential sectors in terms of employment creation in Colombia, it is worth referring to the BPO and call center market. This market, which currently employs more than 600,000 people, according to estimates by the Colombian BPO Association, and created 20,000 new jobs in 2020, is a key player in providing formal employment and professional experience, especially among young people.

To give an idea of this, industry estimates indicate that about 80% of those employed in customer services are young people. In effect, this means that around 480,000 people under 30 years of age in Colombia have a job with full employment rights, thanks to BPO companies' operations.

Considering that most of the incentives and subsidies provided by the National Government during the pandemic have been focused on the employment of people aged 18-28 years, it is highly strategic to recognize and promote the productive work performed by businesses commonly known as call centers.

The indirect impact of these companies on the labor market is also noteworthy. Thanks to the service they provide, other companies – ie, BPO clients – have an ally to guarantee the continuity of their business, allowing them in turn to maintain thousands of jobs in other economic sectors such as telecommunications, banking and technology.

In some ways, much of the adaptation of Colombia’s economy to the dynamics imposed by the pandemic is due to the support provided by the customer service sector. While the Colombian population, through call centers, became aware of e-commerce and new digital tools to access their products, companies reinvented themselves and kept their operations afloat. 

In that light, as we enter the second half of the year, it is worth noting that supporting the customer service industry is to support the social and economic revival of the country. Believing in BPO is believing in the employment of new generations; it is believing in Colombia's tomorrow.

 

* DANE is the government department responsible for the planning, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of Colombia's official statistics.