The Western Cape's call and contact centre industry is still growing rapidly and should deliver at least the targeted 1,000 new jobs by the end of this year, according to CallingtheCape executive director Luke Mills.

One company alone ­ the Dialogue Group, which provides outsourced contact centre services for international clients ­ hired 150 new staff during July, taking its total to just over 500 from 70 when it started in May 2003. Dialogue intends to hire an additional 500 people by the end of this year. Fusion Outsourcing Services, which operates a call centre on behalf of UK insurance giant the Budget Group, plans to add 25 new recruits to its staff each month.

The Communication and Contact Centre Training Institute (CCTI) at the University of the Western Cape has also begun to produce a steady stream of trained Dutch speakers, most of whom are guaranteed jobs at call centres operated by People2Contact and Absolutvalu.

This demand for staff is not expected to level off during the next couple of years. To ensure that the supply of skills doesn't become a barrier to growth, CallingtheCape has just launched a cadet scheme using 60 learnerships allocated by the Services SETA. The scheme aims to give previously disadvantaged young people a start in working life, address any educational shortfalls they may have had, and building up their confidence via practical experience in a working contact centre.

CallingtheCape will implement the cadet scheme in partnership with three other non-profit organisations: the Insight Call Centre, the Call Centre Institute of SA and the Careers Centre Western Cape. Once cadets are recruited, Insight will provide three months of intensive training in basic workplace skills, literacy and numeracy and IT skills. Cadets will also be given specific contact centre training and practical experience in an outbound sales environment. The resulting qualification will be aligned with NQF Level Two.

This initial training will be followed by nine months' practical workplace experience in participating contact centres. Cadets will receive allowances from CallingtheCape via the Services SETA learnerships, with host companies being responsible only for overtime and commissions.

"Busy contact centre managers often don't have time to nurture raw talent or comply with all the bureaucracy that goes with learnership," says Mills. "The cadet scheme removes all the obstacles to taking on young, untrained new staff.

The first group of 30 cadets is about to start initial training and will be ready for work experience placement by mid-November; a second group of 30 will be ready by January 3. If the scheme is successful, CTC will increase the number of learners trained each year.