Black women have been among the main beneficiaries of the growth in the Western Cape call centre industry, according to a survey recently conducted by Deloitte on behalf of industry promotion body CallingtheCape.

   In all 14 companies, accounting for about a quarter of the call centre agents in the Western Cape, answered survey questions about their human resources. In these companies, black women account for 43% of all call centre agents and 42% of supervisors. Black men account for 20% of agents and 29% of supervisors. Overall, black South Africans account for 63% of call centre agents and 61% of supervisors.

   Within the ranks of management progress has been slightly slower, although the results remain impressive:  black women fill 28% of management positions, as opposed to 33% for white men.

   "The figures are very encouraging," says CallingtheCape executive director Luke Mills, "and we think they're probably a fair reflection of the state of affairs in the rest of the industry. The large pool of black agents and supervisors is a good sign that management-level transformation will happen fast in the next few years, because most managers start out as agents".

   Mills estimates the total number of call centre agents in the Western Cape at just over 10,000 – and growing fast. Six of the operators who responded to the human resources survey experienced employment growth of 50-100% during the past year and seven expect to employ at least 100% more people in the coming year.

   An entry level call centre agent can expect to earn between R2,000 per month (in a small business) and R6,000 per month in a multinational, with the average starting salary being just under R4,300 per month. The average starting salary for a supervisor is just over R7, 200 a month.

   CallingtheCape's Skills Development Committee has a specific mandate to increase black participation in the industry even further. One approach they are taking is to target existing students at community colleges and tertiary institutions for a call centre preparation workshop. "This will give students an introduction to the industry, explain the recruiting requirements and tell them how to prepare themselves to work in the industry," says Mills. "We'll also offer site visits to major call centres so students can see for themselves what the job entails."

   School leavers will also be targeted. CallingtheCape, together with the Department of Education, will provide career counselling sessions for matriculants at schools in previously disadvantaged areas where there are high levels of matriculant unemployment. "We need to do more to spread the message that the call centre industry could be a career of choice for school leavers," says Mills. "These sessions will encourage school leavers to find out more and give them a better understanding of what they need to do to find work."