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Economy

BPO industry turns to academe to fill talent pool

July 20, 2011 9:00pm
Faced with a shallow skilled talent pool, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has begun collaborating with the government and various schools to ensure the graduates joining the labor force have competencies aligned with the needs of the industry.

The British Broadcasting Company, in a report tagging the Philippines as "the world's hotline," said the government is tweaking college curricula in an effort to produce enough qualified graduates entering the job market.

In a phone interview with GMA News Online, former commissioner Monchito Ibrahim of the now-defunct Commission on Information and Communications Technology said the availability of talent has really been a problem of the industry in the past years.

"We are graduating half a million students a year, but only less than 10 percent of them can readily be utilized by the industry," Ibrahim said.

"With that figure, we cannot achieve our objective of hiring more than 200,000 for the industry," he added.

Sunshine industry

Marjorie Garces, 24, is a graduate of a four-year course at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Straight out of college, Garces said she sent her resume to prospective firms and media outfits, hopeful that she would land a job at a company where she could apply the skills she learned in school.

But her growing need to find a job soon practically forced her to consider other opportunities. Among her options, the booming call center industry.

"Gusto ko na kasi magkaroon ng trabaho noon, eh wala pang tumatawag doon sa mga in-apply-an ko," Garces told GMA News Online.

The relatively high pay and somewhat easy hiring process in Philippine call centers attracted Garce, prompting her to apply for a job at one of the contact centers in Manila.

Garces is just one of the many college graduates who have found employment in what the government deems as a "sunshine industry."

Revenues of the local BPO industry went from $2.4 billion in 2005 to about $9 billion in 2010.

The industry employs more than 500,000 people.

While there is no dearth of local graduates like Garces seeking employment in call centers in major urban centers, the industry's rapid expansion is leaving BPO firms with a waning pool of talent to address the overwhelming overseas demand for outsourced service.

Skills mismatch

Signing bonuses and above-average pay grades make call center firms attractive for fresh graduates to join their fold. But in recent years, industry players have discovered the paradigm that many are called, only few are chosen.

According to data from the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), only 3 percent to 6 percent of applicants are actually hired.

"We are a growing industry and we have a requirement, but the workforce we are getting is not enough," said Jojo Uligan, executive director of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines.

Uligan said this prompted them to bring their recruitment efforts closer to schools and universities through partnerships and collaborations with concerned government agencies.

"We saw the concern, and we wanted to let the educational institutions know that they are not producing graduates with skills needed by the industry," he said.

High-growth industries

This is a reality not at all overlooked by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the government body tasked to regulate, set policies, and impose standards on colleges and universities.

In 2009, the commission turned over to six state universities and colleges the CHED Integrated Multi-Site Business Process Outsourcing Incubation Contact Center, a facility designed to train future BPO agents.

Among the goals of the facility include:
  • Improving the competencies of students and graduates in skill setsrequired by the BPO industry to increase their employability

  • Creating a pool of qualified manpower to support the growth of the BPO and contact center industry

  • And enhancing the capability of the Higher Education Institutions to develop curricula and continuing professional education programs relevant to the industry requirements.
According to CHED executive director Julito Vitriolo, the commission has had initiatives encouraging schools to improve their curriculum in ways that strengthen the students’ communications skills.

He clarified, however, that this government initiative doesn't necessarily intend to churn out graduates that only the BPO industry will absorb.

"English is recognized as the language of business. We are enhancing their communication and other skills toward a goal of achieving greater global competitiveness, especially in high-growth industries as the BPO sector," Vitriolo said.

English in schools

In early 2010, however, the government took a more aggressive stance toward improving the level of English literacy in Philippine schools, reiterating an earlier executive order reinstating English as a medium of instruction in schools.

"If we really want to compete globally, we have to bring back English as our medium of instruction because that is the language of technology," said former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in an article in the newspaper Manila Standard Today.

In Arroyo's Executive Order 210, the former president said the development of the English language skills of students will "make them better prepared for the job opportunities emerging in the new, technology-driven sectors of the economy."

This, however, met criticisms, especially from the academe, who said not all professions require the use of English.

In a primer the National Committee of Language and Translation released to specifically counter the points of Arroyo's EO, the group said the rationale for improving English language skills in order to fill the demand of the call center industry is "unreasonable... Call center job vacancies for English speaking Filipinos is a temporary and limited opportunity," the group asserted. "It is unreasonable to change our educational system’s language policy based on this measly figure."

The group said it is deplorable if the government sees the educational system as a mere manpower pool for sectors like the call center industry.

"[The government must give] priority to the formation of intellectuals who will become leading professionals, scientists, and scholars in their respective fields," the language experts group said. — ELR/VS, GMA News



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