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English language competency in Sri Lanka’s KPO, BPM and IT industry

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Sri Lanka is emerging as a global KPO, BPM and IT outsourcing destination of choice in a number of key focus domain areas and was awarded the prestigious “Outsourcing Destination of the Year” award by the National Outsourcing Association (NOA), UK in 2013. 
It is also ranked among the Top 50 Global Outsourcing destinations by AT Kearney and ranked among Top 20 Emerging Cities by Global Services Magazine.
There are over 300 KPO, BPM and IT companies that operate in Sri Lanka. Among the leading companies operating in Sri Lanka are HSBC, WNS Global Services, Aviva, Microsoft, Motorola, Industrial and Financial Systems (IFS), Copal Amba Research, RR Donnelley, Quattro, Virtusa, Millennium Information Technology and Innodata Isogen.


Staff functioning in this industry is exposed to a range of different clients and hence the level of communicative ability required would be different based on each job role. SLASSCOM (Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies), the industry body for IT, Business Process Management (BPM) and Knowledge Services, engaged the British Council for an in-depth benchmarking exercise that would clearly define the language needs of job roles in this industry. 
This approach of setting standards in English language competency at all levels of an organisation ensures it is effective in recruitment and investment in learning and development. 
Benchmarking provides a clear picture of the level of English language skills actually required for a particular job across the four English language skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. The basis of the benchmarking is the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR); a global framework used to teach, assess and measure competency in the English language and the result of over 20 years of research.
The CEFR outlines language proficiency at six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. For example, a person who is rated as A1 would be able to carry out very basic conversations like greetings or asking and giving a name. In comparison, an individual with a level of C2 would be able to use the language proficiently even in complex situations.  


In the KPO, BPM and IT industry for instance, a Senior Associate at the Contact Centre would need to have a C1 in speaking and writing English. This is predominantly due to the fact that this role would require communicating with clients fluently and effortlessly. 
A Senior Associate would need to write emails and clear, well-structured messages and texts using a wide range of vocabulary to communicate with clients. This role would require a B2 in reading, listening and understanding as it requires the ability to independently interpret and understand both documents and conversations. 
In addition to a Senior Associate, there are over 100 unique job roles that have been benchmarked for this industry. This sets a clear framework for investment in English in the areas of recruitment, training and career development for the industry. 
“English is and will be the global language of business for decades to come. To make the Sri Lankan KPO, BPM and IT industry competitive and ready for future growth, employees need to possess the right suite of English language skills; be it verbal or written. We believe that partnering with the British Council for this benchmarking exercise has been of great value in identifying exactly what the right suite of English language skills is. Our industry has benchmarked over 108 unique job roles for language skills development, building a foundation to set standards that help recruit and develop talent so that we can better position Sri Lanka as an outsourcing destination” – Jayantha De Silva, Chairman SLASSCOM.
Currently, over 80,000 individuals are employed in the KPO, BPM and IT industry contributing to over USD 800 million in exports for Sri Lanka in 2014. The workforce is stable with very low attrition rates ranging from 10-15%. (Source: www.slasscom.lk) 
For more information on how benchmarking, assessment and English language development solutions can support your organisation or industry, contact the British Council on +94 (0) 114 521521 or visit www.britishcouncil.lk/exam/aptis
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. 
We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.
For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.lk
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