Cape Town’s call centre industry is set to create at least 1,000 new jobs this year, according to Luke Mills, Executive Director of specialist development agency Calling the Cape.

There are already around 120 call centres in the Cape Town area, representing 10,000 jobs – and Mills says Calling the Cape, which promotes the Western Cape as a destination for national and international investors, is currently hosting international delegations at the rate of about one a week.  Of the 30 potential investors who have visited this year, three are currently in talks with Calling the Cape to set up brand-new call centre or back office processing facilities.

At the same time, outsourcers – who host call centres on behalf of other companies – are growing at a rate of about 30% every three months, with much of their new business coming from overseas.  Interest is coming predominantly from the UK, as well as the Netherlands, the USA and Canada.

This rapid growth means call centre careers are becoming an increasingly attractive career option, especially since many young Capetonians currently have to leave for Johannesburg or overseas to find work in other sectors. A recent study by a UCT academic found that unemployment rates for young people with tertiary qualifications were just over 15% in 2002. This finding is borne out by the fact that of around 800 IT graduates in and around Cape Town last year, only an estimated 10% found work locally.

For new graduates, call centres offer competitive salaries, excellent working conditions, good career prospects and the opportunity to gain class experience in one of the fastest-growing global industries.  Skills shortages at management level mean that those with some experience and leadership ability are likely to reap handsome rewards.

South African call centre agents are particularly highly regarded for having a good "customer touch". Recent international investors have also commented on South Africans’ clear accents, enthusiasm, willingness to learn and high productivity.

Local language skills are also a plus, both in English and Afrikaans. A group of Afrikaans speakers was recently put through three months’ training in Dutch, and is now handling customer service queries for a travel company in the Netherlands.  After just four months, the local team is performing at least as well as the Netherlands-based call centre it is supplementing.

"The Western Cape offers a world-beating combination of price and productivity," says Mills. "We’re set to capture a respectable portion of the global market in the next five years".

Meanwhile Dimension Data in KwaZulu-Natal says it was recently awarded a three-year contract worth R10m to plan, build and support a new call centre infrastructure for Bizworks - a Durban-based black-empowered ICT company. According to the company, the eThekwini Metro Authority, in conjunction with the Durban Investment Promotion Agency (DIPA), embarked on a project to establish a call centre in Durban three years ago, in an effort to develop Durban as a leading call centre destination for international businesses. Bizworks, says the company, saw this as an opportunity to establish a pilot site to lure investors to Durban and to host them on its site.