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Call Centers: Boon or Bane for New Graduates?
With the country high unemployment rate, new graduates and other new entrants to the labor force are grateful for the presence of call centers which take in thousands of them every week, regardless of the course taken. Concerned voices however raise the issue of government molding the education system to churn out graduates suited to the needs of the call center industry. By:AVA DANLOG Bulatlat
Under the subject Advanced Communication for International Business or Comm 400 in the University of the East in Manila, students are taught marketing, finance and public speaking. Topics such as English proficiency and American geography are tackled.
Call Center Representatives
Lara (not her real name), a graduating engineering student, is taking such a subject. Although completely unrelated to her course, she took up the communications course as an elective to equip her with the skills needed for employment after graduation.
Ironically, Lara knows she would most likely end up not practicing her chosen profession. She plans to apply as a call center agent in Makati right after graduation. Doubting she will even pass the licensure exams, she knows it would be difficult for her to compete for the few decent job openings available to inexperienced engineering graduates like her. In addition, she "more than happy with the comparatively high basic salary offered in the call center industry.
"Mecca" for New Graduates
Alarmingly, more and more graduating students are looking at call centers as an option for employment. Regardless of degree taken, thousands of fresh and old graduates are hired by the call center industry every week.
A call center is a communications-based company which serves as a support system for larger companies in first world countries like the United States. Call or contact centers handle customer complaints and inquiries and provide technical support for a wide array of products and services like electronics, e-mail management, mortgage, insurance, advertising, telecommunications and even volunteer and charity work.
Basically, the work is to receive from and make calls to foreign countries. There are two categories of call centers: inbound and outbound calls. And there are three types of accounts: telemarketing, customer service and technical support. Telemarketing belongs to the inbound category. However, customer service centers also engage in up selling, which means offering or selling services.
Debts and the need to lower cost structures caused by a troubled stock market, unstable economic conditions and declining expenditure on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) have made off shoring appealing to U.S. companies. ICT advances have enabled multinational and transnational corporations to decentralize certain operational areas like the handling of inbound and outbound calls.
Years ago, the Philippines was unknown in the provision of e-services in the world. However, the improving technology and the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the country during the mid-1990s paved the way for the launching of the call center industry. The Department of Trade and Industry lists at least 37 call center companies in the country and the number is growing. Major players include Converges, People Support and Aftercare.
The Filipinos' Edge
Since the industry mainly caters to markets from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, call center agents are obliged to acquire the foreign accent and study the geography and cultural mores of these foreign countries and work on a graveyard shift. Being the third largest English speaking country in the world and with a high literacy rate, the Philippines is considered as one of the most competitive call center destinations in the world.
Other factors that make the country attractive to foreign companies are the cheap class A office spaces, better power and telecommunications infrastructure, good quality but cheap labor force and the support the government is all too willing to extend to these foreign investors.
Graduates and even undergraduates who pass the preliminary exams undergo a six-day English skills training and product training for three weeks. After which the agent trainee will be placed on the floor to attend to mock calls for assessment. Agents are supposed to be able to type at least 25 words per minute.
The basic pay for call center agents ranges from P11,000 (US$200.98 at US$1=PhP54.73) to P13,000 a month. In ICT Philippines, a call center that operates in the Philippines, agents enjoy a monthly P2,500 food and transportation allowance and a performance appraisal bonus amounting to P4,000. Often, they are also offered spiffs like appliances, cellular phone loads and gift checks to boost the sales per hour capacity of the employees. For example, whoever first gets five sales per hour for the night wins a prize. And an agent who hits the target quota sales gets an additional P11,500 commission plus a 30-50 percent night differential. All in all, a well-performing agent gets a gross monthly income of more than P31,000. This, as opposed to the P8,000 entry level salary generally offered in other sectors.
Yet, these are not all. Call center agents receive benefits like SSS, health insurance, Pag-ibig and salary loans. It is not a dead-end job either. Agents get the chance to climb the corporate ladder in just a matter of three months. Some call centers offer perks like free shuttle rides, free meals and coffee and sleeping rooms and even karaoke rooms.
Most people find the job easy. According to Wing, a Philosophy graduate and who has been working for a call center selling mortgage services in Ortega's for 14 months now, I find the job easy. When I go home, I go home. I don't have any paperwork. When I'm in the office, I work my brains out because I'm already a team leader. But when I get home, I'm home. I don't have anything else to do.