Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The truth about jobs

The call center job has attracted the ire of many. There are those who say it is a dead end job. There are others who say that there are cultural ramifications, health hazards, moral hazards and what not. Some are very charitable to it and just say it is a McJob.

The truth is that the call center job is a choice. It is the choice of this era. Ideally, every man in India would be a Shah Rukh Khan and every woman would perhaps be a Preeti Zinta? If thats not possible, every man should be a Sunil Mittal and every woman perhaps a Sucheta Dalal? Or how about Sehwag and Sania? But somewhere between Shah Rukh, Sehwag and Sunil lies reality. The reality that one has to do a job to earn a living. Make ends meet. So what do you do if nobody comes forward to you with film offers or cricket bat or an industry to run? You take the job that is available. Mind well that I am not talking about someone who has a degree in marketing and has the choice of two jobs - one which pays well but offers no work life balance and the other which is a low paying job with greater responsibility - the standard choice trotted by well heeled MBAs. I am talking about the average Ramu on the street - the graduate (less than that, some other time).

I never tire of saying this, but a job is a job is a job. It is a means to earn a living. There are a chosen few who derive their livelihood from their passion, for many others, it is a means to earn their living. For them their passion is their hobby.

Look at the past to learn about the future. In the 60s and 70s, the trains which brought people to Bombay, Delhi from the South of India were known as "Stenographers Express". Today we know and read about IT jobs today and the mushrooming of NIIT-like computer training institutes. Then, every gully had a typing institute that taught you speed typing and shorthand. To standardise it the government introduced a typing and shorthand test. (It exists even today). Who in their right frame of mind will argue that a typists job can have any passion? And much more than the call center job, a typists job was a dead end job.

Cut to the 80s, when it was the Gulf job boom. That was about 25 years back. So, many Indians went there. How many are CEOs today, since 25 years in service is a reasonably long time to rise to a CEO position? Incredibly - none (or three). You can cry hoarse to argue that many of them went there as low level position - I know that nobody went to the "Gulf" as a CEO, but 25 years is a long time. Truth is that the Gulf jobs were all about labour arbitrage and zero progress. You joined as an accounts clerk you died as one. Dead end job anyone?

The 90s saw the bodyshopper job. The Gulf job replaced by the contractor (consultants - if you wanted to elevate your position) in the American firm. Many of these programmers have seen one (or two or three) applications in their entire job profile. (Indian programmers of IT companies by contrast know "all there is to know" because they work in multiple projects across a year or so. ) Apart from the handful who graduated big time to company founders (and many of them were US educated) during the dot com boom, the rest of minions are just sitting there capitalizing on labour arbitrage and cultivating an accent (something you did not get in the gulf). Isnt this a dead end job too?

Take any other job. Clerk? Salesman? Accounts officer? Receptionist? Office boy? Challenging or Dead end? Jobs can be dead end, as long as they help the employee earn his living and live comfortably. It is better to be a successful television artist earning money than it is to stand in front of a big banner film company office and wait until you are "discovered". Likewise, if I cannot become Sachin, Sunil or Shahrukh, I need a job to survive. Once my bread and butter is taken care of, I will look to do something else. Like blog, perhaps.

So,is the call center a dead end job or not? The call center job is way way better than any of the above. Because except for the typists, the other job booms sucked out qualified engineers (for the most part) out of the country. The call center takes the jobs to graduates. Those who, as we have seen in many of the art films of the 80s, are umemployed and would have seen themselves at the end of a line in an "employment exchange". Many of these call center execs work in swank offices, are paid well, are trained in a whole host of things, get to travel abroad,gain multicultural experience (either through travel or by interacting with visitors).

The job of the 00s is the call center job. It will soon pass and somewhere in the next few years we will see another boom in a work of a different sort. Then we will all come together and rant and say how the "future job" is a dead end job.

20 comments:

Kaps said...

Gulf jobs were never meant to be CEO level jobs. As per local norms, Arabs head (atleast on paper) most of the firms. Indians occupy top positions in banks, audit firms, ad agencies etc.

You could probably add the 60s and the 70s as the decade of the PSU & Banking jobs.

Neelakantan said...

Well, the point is that the majority of gulf jobs were "dead end" jobs, a lot more than the call centre jobs. A few became heads in their respective areas, but for the majority it was a journey from one contract to another, one visa to another without too much of an upgradation in job responsibilities.

Hiren said...

Very well written I must say and extremely comprehensive and interesting since you have given so many examples of dead end jobs. Your write up is a good reality check.

Your facts are correct but that does not imply that one should not try to be a Sachin or a Shahrukh. The key is to find your passion at an early age. Then you have a good chance. Otherwise, it can imply lifelong suffering in the wrong job.

Swathi said...

amazingly well written article.
n yes i like the observation u made - for some work is passion whereas for others passion is in their hobbies.

Lahar said...

I completely agree- its easy to sit and belittle people in call centres, but part of this ridicule is because there is an entire section of society that didnt go to the "right schools" or come from the "right background", who are now earning tons of money by just "doing nothing". Those of us who went to "professional" colleges feel that we needed to struggle and slog for this, but these people are getting easy money on a platter- more than many MBAs earn. It's the old brahminical thing rearing its ugly head again, thats what it is.

Oh, and there IS one person who went to the Gulf. And then returned. To start a company called Reliance Industries...

Rashmi Bansal said...

hi - very well written? Can I publish it in JAM. Mail me at rashmi_b@yahoo.com and lemme know!

Kapil said...

That was a very refreshing perspective to the whole call center job. But do you believe the comparison to previous phases is justified enough to say that the call center job cannot grow in their social standing.

Anonymous said...

Nicely written.

WhoKnows said...

i dont seriously think that seeing a no of diffferent cultures teaches you a whole lot.
i think the incremental knowledge gained in moving from the second culture you see to the third culture is generally not worth the time and effort involved.

idli-chutney said...

that was a really nice observation. I have always thought about the jobs of typists, stenos, secretary, bus conductors. But you have put them in the right perspective. cheers.

Pradeep

Rahul said...

As other commenters have already mentioned, very well written indeed and coming to your blog gave that small joy one gets on finding a cool new website.

I'll definitely visit again!

I would disagree with this though :
"the rest of minions are just sitting there capitalizing on labour arbitrage and cultivating an accent "

Atleast for me, ever since I got introduced to software, have been fascinated and amazed by it. Its a real passion for me and I know many of my friends too, So we enjoy our work and are pursing our passion and that happens to be our source living as well. I know we are a lucky bunch - to have your passion as you profession.

And there-in lies, I think, the reason why many ppl say call centre jobs are dead-end jobs. Most of these call centre guys are metro guys - bangalore, chennai, mumbai and most have close friends, siblings in software, doing really well. So its this comparision with software that brings tags like "dead end" to call center jobs.

Anonymous said...

Pradeep has a very valid point. the attitude towards call centre being a dead end job will only change when IT service industry starts attracting work that invovles more than just IT chores and call centres. I see development in infrastructure monitoring and other core operations outsourcing cultivating more advanced tech support and administration jobs. Until then, answering calls its just no better than being a typist.

Anonymous said...

As a senior manager running a call centre I think there is merit in looking at this subject from many different angles. If one purely chooses to look at the monotony of a call centre job, there truly will exist monotony in many of the other jobs that people do to earn a living. The issue is that the monotony in this case is coupled with quick (?) and lots of 'easy' money, or so the media would have us believe, different work hours and endless media hype. 'Dead end' I don't know about, but surely much talked about for now.

Asad said...

Hi Guys,

It is good, you wrote very well. Some people are here who have invested there money to get a higher degree but getting equall to call centre guys. I like to say them it is a life, some one gets something and some one others. Never complaint to God what you get in your life. See them who doesn't have what ever you have. I am happy working guy with Call Centre.

It doesn't matter in which field you are, matter is that how do you work.

There is a saying by Dainik Jagran News Paper "It doesn't matter what we get as a legacy, matter is that what will we leave behind us as a Legacy".

Every thing has its boom sometime. Still some people are making money as a conductor, as an accountant, as a programmer, as a contractor, as going to Gulf and so on. Some people will also survive in call centre in future but only those who have worth for it.

Because talent remains everywhere.

Mohd Asad alam

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Ashok Kumar said...

Unemployment is the worst case, but these can be minimized through education to everyone. In India, Government has made compulsory education to the all the children's and i hope in future there are more jobs in chennai and everyone gets benefited.