An often-overlooked career option for South African school leavers is that of becoming a call centre operator. Given recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), some may now even discard this idea out of hand because of mistaken perceptions about machines taking over the jobs of humans in this field.

The reality, however, is that the call centre industry in South Africa remains robust and in need of real humans, and that the field provides a foot in the door to a wide range of careers down the line, an education expert says.

According to a recent report by Research and Markets, South Africa was voted by global contact centre managers as the preferred business process outsourcing location in the world.

“The report noted South Africa’s competitive advantages and said that the South African contact centre industry, which includes call centres, technical support and back and front office services for multinationals and South African companies, has recorded exceptional growth in recent years, driven by strong support by government through the incentives offered by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition,” says Siyavuya Makubalo, marketing manager at distance learning college Oxbridge Academy.

“Overall, while it is true that AI is transforming the way that call centres operate, there are still plenty of reasons why a call centre job can be a good career choice for young people in South Africa. From the job opportunities and development of transferable skills, to the personal growth and competitive salaries, a call centre job can offer a range of benefits that make it a good call career-wise,” she says.

Makubalo says that the call centre sector is still a key employer in South Africa and that, despite the advances in AI, there remains a high demand for real-life, human customer service representatives in call centres, which means that there continues to be excellent entry-level opportunities available for young people starting out in their careers.

“Many customers still prefer to speak to a human representative when they have an issue or question. This means that call centre operators can offer a valuable human touch, which can be especially important in industries such as healthcare or finance, where customers may have sensitive or complex queries.”

She notes that call centres are high-stress environments, where teamwork is key – a combination that, if mastered, opens up a world of opportunity.

“While it is tough, it provides the ideal opportunity to gain experience, build and develop your transferable skills, and practise creative problem-solving. These so-called soft skills are in high demand in a myriad of non-call centre environments, and can be applied to a range of other jobs in different industries, which means that a call centre job is a great stepping stone for young people looking to build a versatile career.

“In other words, qualifying as a call centre operator and entering the profession doesn’t mean you are going to be glued to a headset for the rest of your days. Quite the contrary! If you make your mark, you will become eligible for advancement not just within the company, but also outside of it in new roles.”

And on the salary front call centre salaries are often very competitive compared to most entry-level jobs in South Africa.

“Although entry-level call centre salaries are not at the high end of the payment scale, they are often competitive compared to other entry-level jobs in South Africa. And with the right experience and training, call centre operators can progress into management positions and roles outside of the call centre industry, which are likely to offer increasingly higher salaries and additional benefits.”