Sat | Feb 22, 2020

BPO smart academy gives at-risk youths second chance

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:27 AMNadine Wilson-Harris - Staff Reporter
Dossette Edwards-Watson (centre), principal of the Itel BPO smart academy at Trench Town Polytechnic, assists Zavion Webster (left) and Shackeena Bonnes with classwork on March 12.

Jones Town resident Zavion Webster is the first person in his family to attend college, and the prospects of becoming a middle manager in one of Jamaica’s business processing outsourcing (BPO) companies after graduating with his associate degree has given him renewed hope.

Webster is one of 23 students currently pursuing his associate degree in BPO at the Trench Town Polytechnic College in south St Andrew.

“I feel very elated because I dropped out of high school. I used to go to St George’s College, and I am now at Trench Town, and I am doing something better with my life right now,” he said.

“When I dropped out of high school, everyone held their head down ... , and now they are raising it up because I am doing well in school,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

The BPO sector is now one of the fastest-growing industries in Jamaica, and in a bid to train more middle managers and supervisors, local BPO Itel has established a smart classroom at the Trench Town Polytechnic College to prepare youth.

“The thinking was that there are so many entry-level positions in the sector, so we wanted to have a cadre of workers who would essentially be supervisors [and] middle managers,” explained principal at the institution, Dossette Edwards-Watson.

She said that Itel undertook the responsibility of providing resources for the classroom and giving each student uniforms and a locker.

“They would have taken a plain blank room, they would have put in the tables, the seating, the air-conditioning units and done the branding, and every single thing that we would have needed to build out that programme,” she said.


The programme is being done in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, which provided the students with scholarships.

“These are students mostly from Trench Town and its hinterland communities. Many of them travel here, and they do not necessarily have all they need for school, but they are embracing the opportunity, and we are seeing much growth in them in terms of just the social skills that they come with because that is going to be big for them as customer service agents and supervisors, as the case may be, so they are warming to that,” said Edwards-Watson.

Webster has three younger siblings, and he is happy for the opportunity to redeem himself in their eyes.

“When I was at my past high school, I was very rude, I was doing all the bad stuff, and my grandma, she is a Christian, so she put a lot of things to me and showed me the ways of life. I wasn’t really imagining myself getting kicked out of high school, so right now, I am trying to get back on track,” he said.

Webster’s teacher, Kameka Allen, is proud of him and of all her other students, who, she said, have been making good use of the opportunity to upgrade their skills. She noted that several of them are parents and some work part time. As a result, classes are structured to accommodate their schedules.

“They are very upbeat about their future, and I think it is wonderful for an institution to give the young people something to look forward to,” she said.

In order to matriculate into the programme, persons are required to have a Level Two certificate from HEART Trust/NTA or three Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects. Allen said that several students are currently completing Level Two HEART Trust courses so that they can join the BPO classes.

Edwards-Watson explained that they started offering classes at the smart academy in September 2018. The associate degree programme, which is now into its second semester, will run for two years.

“Once they do this, they can, in fact, spend another year and a semester and they can get a first degree. It is one of those occupational degrees. So once you start with the associate degree, you move up to your first degree, and then there are master’s programmes that you will write and occupational PhDs that would come on stream,” she said.

Cockburn Gardens resident Britney Edwards is looking forward to graduating with her associate degree. The 19-year-old doesn’t mind not being certified by one of Jamaica’s premier universities.

“I am being offered an opportunity. Education is education, and that is a value that nobody can take away from me,” she said.