'Youths make great call center workers'

By Karen Flores, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Jul 21 2011 12:15 AM | Updated as of Jul 21 2011 08:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Young people make great employees in call centers and other related services, an executive from the country's largest private employer said.

Andrea Ayers, president for customer management of American outsourcing firm Convergys, said the younger generation has a distinct advantage when it comes to multitasking and computer utilization skills, making them perfect for the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Currently, half of Convergys' 25,000 employees in the Philippines are either college students or fresh graduates.

The company plans to hire another 5,000 youths by the end of the year.

"They (youth) take multitasking to a whole new level," Ayers told abs-cbnNEWS.com during her recent visit to Manila for Convergys' 8th anniversary in the country.

Most call centers require workers to be computer savvy and proficient in English, and be able to do many things at the same time.

Ayers said, however, that transactions are likely to become more complex in the coming years with the rise of smartphones, tablet computers and social media, things that many young people are familiar with.

"Technology is becoming more important, but there's still a lot of live agent volume," she said.

Dead-end jobs?

The country's BPO industry has become one of the Philippines' most profitable industries since it emerged in 2004.

It grew 26% last year to $8.9 billion and gave jobs to over half a million skilled workers and professionals, according to Convergys country manager Marife Zamora.

"This industry (BPO) is big enough for everybody," she said.

Contrary to what most people believe, working in a call center (or contact center) is not a dead-end job. Zamora said their employees have the opportunity to train, climb the corporate ladder, and even travel abroad.

"They can be asked to share their skills in other countries. BPOs offer opportunities to go around the globe. We all had that opportunity at a younger age," she said.

For her part, Ayers said, "It's a tough job, but a good one."

Health costs

And tough, it is. Call center workers in the Philippines may have a relatively high salary, but this usually comes at the cost of their health, according to a study by the University of the Philippines' Population Institute last year.

The study showed that almost half (47%) of call center workers regularly eat 3 meals a day, with more females skipping either breakfast, lunch or dinner. It also found a higher consumption of fast food, beer, alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

A separate study by the UP Population Institute and the International Labor Organization, meanwhile, said that many of the country's call center workers experience fatigue (54%) and insomnia (47.7%) given their graveyard shifts.

Given these, BPO firms continue to come up with ways to keep employees in tip-top shape, such as tying up with food companies to make them eat whole grain cereals and fruits and vegetables instead of burgers.