HIGH-TIER IT

Jamaica 2018 | IT & BPO | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Odetta Rockhead-Kerr, Country Head & Associate Vice President of Sutherland Global Services, on expanding services, growing the talent pool, and reshaping Jamaica.

Odetta Rockhead-Kerr
BIOGRAPHY
A senior executive with 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, Odetta Rockhead-Kerr has been the Country Head and Associate Vice President at Sutherland Global Services since its establishment in Jamaica in 2012. Rockhead-Kerr spearheaded Sutherland’s entry into Jamaica, establishing four locations in four years with the ultimate goal to grow to 10,000 employees. Prior to Sutherland, she spent 15 years at Xerox, 10 of which were as Vice President. She managed operations in Jamaica, Africa, the US, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. She is qualified at the undergraduate and graduate levels in business management.

How has the sector evolved over the past few years in terms of the services you offer and the level of education of your employees?

The services offered are continuously evolving. A few years ago, the services were basic, requiring little decision-making and variability such as transferring data from a physical healthcare form to an application for upload. Over time, we have become attractive for more complex processes such as finance and accounting, and with the talent pool educated to handle this, our services delivered include finance, accounting, and HR outsourcing, with medical and legal outsourcing on our radar. Today, we deliver services that are more complex and require undergraduate degrees and, in some cases, graduate degrees as well as specific professional qualification such as the charted professional accountant certification. The labor pool in Jamaica is of an extremely high quality, for example, 60% of our employees at a tier-one level are either in college or have a degree, and this is not a pre-requisite for the positions. This is one factor that allows us to deliver the high-quality output we provide to our clients. Most of our revenue is driven by clients in the top 15 companies on the Forbes list of Fortune 500 companies.

Does the BPO industry have the ability to reshape the economy of Jamaica?

Comparing our unemployment rate and BPO numbers from five years ago with those of today, there is a direct impact. Sutherland specifically has grown by 1,000 employees per year over the past five years to more than 5,000 today. Jamaica continues to be attractive for BPO investment and growth for several reasons, which include location and high proficiency in English. This industry has the ability to not just dramatically improve unemployment numbers but also improve the quality of jobs. To achieve this, we invest in technology. The objective is to automate lower-tier jobs that require little decision-making and have little variability, freeing up resources that can be developed to take on higher-tier functions. The income that accompanies higher-tier jobs will add value.

How does Sutherland differentiate itself from competitors?

Our main differentiators are our employee engagement initiatives, high-caliber clientele, and ability to consistently deliver performance excellence to our clients. We have promoted more than 137 employees by two levels or more over the last year. This, and our employee engagement specialist, confirms our commitment to grow and develop our employees. We also engage the community through our Community Technology Centre (CTC) program in partnership with Microsoft. This program targets youth who have either dropped out of high school or lack the pre-requisites for a tertiary education. We have certified close to 2,000 people, and a lot of these youth go on to work for Sutherland through an apprenticeship program, making it a great sourcing mechanism for solid candidates.

What projects or goals will you focus on in the coming year?

We are now looking at opening our fifth site and in 2018 could be opening two more. Our ultimate objective is to get to 10,000 employees, which should be possible if the talent is available. We are also the only BPO company that has partnered with a college, Portmore Community College, where we have launched an associate's degree program in business process management specific to our industry. We worked with the college to develop the curriculum and are committed to providing paid internships for every student that graduates. We are in the process of signing an MoU with the University of the West Indies to launch master's degree programs. Another objective is targeting high-unemployment areas and generating further economic impact. We will see significant growth in our leadership tier and may see another 200 employees promoted two levels or more in 2018.