A full service call centre in Umhlanga that will create more than 1 000 jobs over 18 months is not just a celebration of direct foreign investment in KwaZulu-Natal but an incentive to continue to create a business climate that will attract further international business.
Celebrating the opening of Coracall - a 300 seater call centre owned by British company Assured Capital Holdings that is based at the Coastlands Hotel on Umhlanga Ridge - today (August 14), Zamo Gwala, Chief Executive of Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal (TIKZN) said that the opening of the British-owned call centre was testament to the competitiveness of KwaZulu-Natal's telecommunications and IT sectors, strong skills levels and a strong cultural fit. He said that this important investment was also further evidence that Durban had the potential to become a large call centre hub that could provide valuable employment opportunities for the large numbers of unemployed young people in the region. Pointing out that KwaZulu-Natal, in particular, and South Africa as a whole was competing for call centre investment with countries in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere in Africa, Gwala said a number of key factors had contributed to bringing Coracall to Durban. These include the availability of office space and good locations to set up call centres, a labour pool that included young people capable of communicating well in English, incentives offered by the national Department of Trade and Industry as well as cultural affinities and compatible time zones. The South African government has earmarked Business Processing Services (BPS) of which call centres form an integral part as one of the key economic growth areas. It already accounts for 200 000 jobs nationally and is one of the country's fastest growing sectors with double digit growth over the past five years. "We have seen considerable growth in this segment of the business services sector, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. We are not just seeing South African companies setting up here, but also businesses that serve international markets which clearly demonstrates that we do have what sells," he said. Coracall Chief Executive Phil Lightfoot confirmed that as much as 90 percent of Coracall's clients would be UK based with just a small portion of customers coming from South Africa. The brand, which is also being registered in the UK this month, will be developed on the back of synergies with sister brand Phruit, which is regarded as a UK leader in lead generation, call centre service provision, market research and hot key transfer. "Coracall contact centres are located in the fastest growing commercial and residential growth markets in the world with the availability of high quality employees that benefit our clients and their service expectations. Most of our client's operate in English speaking countries which is why we have carefully selected the locations for our contact centres, working in stable countries with high levels of literacy, spoken English and investment in the nation's infrastructure. With a telecommunications network that includes the latest in fixed-line, wireless and satellite communication, South Africa has the most developed telecoms network in Africa. Massive infrastructural investment has included the Seacom submarine fibre-optic cable system linking south and east Africa to global networks via India and Europe which was commissioned in July 2009 and the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) that links countries along the continent's eastern coast to the rest of the world which was commissioned in late 2010. Coracall spent 18 months conducting feasibility studies and eventually narrowed its choices down to India (Calcutta, Deli or Mumbai), the Philippines or South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban). Based on their experience, the fact that the markets that they were aggressively targeting such as the UK and the US were particularly sensitive to callers' accents (Durbanites' accents are neutral than those in Cape Town and Johannesburg) and the availability of certain skill sets and premises, they chose Durban.
Lightfoot said he very strongly believed in re-investment which had accounted for much of sister brand Phruit's international success over the past seven years. Phruit currently has a database covering 35 million consumers and their lifestyle preferences in the UK, 125 million in the US and between three and five million in Australia which is regarded as a very new market internationally and one which Coracall intends targeting aggressively following the opening of the Umhlanga Coracall call centre. "In the UK, we are investing in our people and we intend to mirror that here," Lightfoot said. Managing director Ian Kinsey said that Coracall, which will spend the first two months focusing on bedding down its new systems, would start out with a team of 93 which was expected to grow to well over 300 within the next three months. Within just 18 months, he expects to have a staff of 1 700.
Lightfoot said that a great deal of time had been taken to make this a more spacious and appealing working environment than those of many competitors. "We knew we wanted to grow but we also wanted to make this our most prestigious call centre - one that would put us on the world map." Gwala said that the influx of investment into call centres in the city suggested that the local economy was maturing and shifting towards service oriented sectors. He said this was particularly important for job creation as centres such as Coracall's could take shape and offer job opportunities within as little as six months whereas larger manufacturing facilities which required environmental impact assessments, sophisticated construction and equipment and extensive commissioning could take years to set up. "When it comes to cost per job, the call centre industry and telecommunications sector is one industry where you can get more people employed per investment," he said. He said that call centres could not only provide employment opportunities for school leavers and graduates from tertiary institutions but also provided a significant career path that included backroom services within the business processing sector and more specialized skills on the technical side. He added that, ultimately, a wide variety of skills, would also migrate into local businesses as employees moved into other positions, making way for new entrants. "Working in a call centre is nothing like being a receptionist. It goes far beyond just simply answering calls. Very specialized training is required and staff need to know a great deal about the products with which they are dealing. Investments such as this help create a skills pool that is able to operate in this sector which gives us, as an investment destination, an important competitive advantage."