Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The call center debate

With the increase in outsourcing, more and more graduates in India find employment in call centers. There is a debate in India as to whether these jobs add any value to these youngsters, who many claim, are lured by the easy money (working often in odd hours, speaking a foreign tongue often and they call that easy!) that they get to make. Regardless of these debates, more and more graduates use the call center job as a stepping stone to their future and very few (if any) think that a call center is a long term career option. They fine tune their communication skills, get exposure to working in an international culture and move on. Most call centers have excellent infrastructure ( office buildings, work spaces etc.) which have led to an overall improvement in work environment in India. They also provide more than just job training to these youngsters. They are trained for various behavioural skills, personality development and the like as part of the job.

If it were not for good paying call center jobs, where would they be? Part of the frustrated jobless mass, the kind who would stand in line in the employment exchanges (captured in many Bollywood movies). Take out the call centers and where do you see these bright graduates being employed? I see them swelling the ranks of the unemployed. They wouldnt have given up seats in engineering to take up a call center job. Not one single engineering seat (save in the dingiest of colleges) goes empty in the country. Many of these call center "kids" go on to do part time courses that add value to their graduation and experience.

These young graduates who work in call centers today and make good money will pass on the benefit of higher education to their offspring. Ditto for the many side jobs that it creates for the not so privileged. The drivers, cooks, caterers, plumbers ( as part of maintenance staff), all of whom have a better chance of living a better life than their previous generations. So who benefits out of this? The country. Nobody understands this better than Tom Friedman (who I may add is probably the best ambassador offshoring has).

Coming back to a world without call centers. So where would these graduates be employed? Perhaps for a pittance in dingy ill ventilated cubbyholes that pass off as offices. The call center culture is partly responsible at the way our people look at offices in India. Office spaces are improving because of the call centers and the facilities they offer at the workplace. The call center revolution is a step ahead in the future of India.

40 years ago, clearing the SSC or matriculation in India was a big deal. Demand for Matriculate pass shorthand-typists, stenographers (as people who knew both shorthand and typing were known) was a great thing in those days. (Nobody asked if being a typist was a McJob. Far lesser asked if youngsters are being lured to become typists when they could become other "things".) Typing institutes mushroomed all over the place. Knowledge of typing became the norm for entry into the corporate world. Skills were in short supply (I am talking of the 60s) and qualified professionals were hard to find (Requirements of qualified professionals werent that great in any case). Much like the computer training institutes of the 90s, these institutes cashed in on the fact that knowledge of typing was a norm, nay, a skill.

So what am I trying to say? Many of those typists form the generation before us. If it were not for those typists, many of us would not have become engineers or doctors or even singers and actors. Likewise, those who work in call centers will move on, one way or another. In every boom era, there are jobs for the taking. In the 60s and 70s in India, it was a boom for typists and there were thousands of them. Today it is the call center, tomorrow it will be something else.


Anonymous said...

Valid Logic, that these BPO guys will provide a better quality education to thier kids..

I am a living example, my dad started his career as a steno in mumbai


Mridula said...

Could not agree with you more.

Anonymous said...

It was a good article ..

Thought it should reach to maxi.. no of people.


Anonymous said...

agree with you - before the call centres, the job situatin for graduates was pretty sad. one thing that youngsters have to be beware of - companies making tall promises. check out this new website that provides unbiased company information

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with used to be difficult to get entry level jobs for not so qualified centers are providing them a platform to gain work experience and earn money...

Jam Mayer (CallCenterScript) said...

A stepping stone or a full time career, the call center industry has helped countries such as India and the Philippines to rise above it's current economic status. It has indeed helped and given hope to those that wanted a better life and a chance to experience a good career, with benefits, both monetary and educational. This is the reason I exert the time and effort to give it back to fellow colleagues in the industry by blogging at Call Center Script.

Anonymous said...

nice article keep it up! cheers

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Anonymous said...

Good article, very insightful,but however would like to comment that even though the call centres are helping in increasing the economy of the country, how much is it helping the youngsters to tap their full potential, and how much is making the youngsters learn apart of taking calls.And is it useful for the youngsters in the long run, and my worry is, that we will not make use the talent, in the right way, by making them work in call centres where they will only learn how to take calls and stff like that, which reminds me the story of the frog in the well.

Ajith said...

Great post....Agree 100%

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