Focus on education, training

August 18, 2014
(The Philippine Star) August 18, 2014

The column I wrote the other week on call centers drew a lot of reactions on how to make this big job creating, dollar earning industry sustainable. My suspicion was right all along… we need lots of training and really good education from K-12 to college.

Many of those who wrote me e-mails and sat down with me to tell me their stories agree that without good education and training, we risk losing this valuable industry. Yes, they told me, the call centers are now scraping the bottom of the barrel when hiring agents. They are pirating trained staff from each other and putting to work raw recruits.

On the other hand, the call center association people told me that they are aware of the serious manpower problem. They also reassured me that they have training programs to help their members get the manpower they require.

Best of all, the association will roll out their training modules to colleges and training institutes, like STI and Informatics. Thus, those who invest hard earned money to learn skills from these schools are sure to get a job after completing the courses.

The call center industry must work closely with schools and training institutions. It isn’t just technical skills that prospective call center agents must learn. Basic English, spoken and written, is essential. Our schools must do a better job of teaching English language skills.

There must also be ambition to move up from the ordinary voice call centers to those offering higher value added services. But how can we move up if we don’t even have basic skills? This is where DepEd, CHED, TESDA and schools like STI should all work together to produce those skills.

Beyond the basic skills, there is Big Data or Analytics. In this regard, I am impressed with what the Philippine-born IBM Philippines president and country manager has accomplished in the last two years.

If there is one thing Mariels Almeda Winhoffer taught me by example, it is the need to be bullish about our country despite the exasperating things we see around us. Having been away from the country since her college days, she saw the country’s potential differently and did something about it.

In a recent symposium on how Corporate CSR can help Philippine Education, Oscar Lopez, the patriarch of the Lopez Group described how Mariels saw our potential to be the world center for smarter analytics. She was not daunted by the challenge of making that happen. My reaction when she told me what her vision was, where will you get the trained manpower to handle Big Data?

Mr. Lopez, who met Ms Winhoffer in a board meeting of the Asian Institute of Management, was impressed by her firebrand qualities… never take no for an answer. He recalled that in their conversations, Mariels expressed the need to move up to Analytics and not be contented with call centers.

Mr. Lopez lauded how Mariels used the resources of the legendary IBM to help create higher value added jobs in the hot area of Big Data or Business Analytics. The current dearth of trained manpower was not going to stop her.

Mariels was certain the Philippines can capture a good part of the estimated $212 billion global market opportunity for Analytics if we move with the right strategy and speed. She thinks it is possible to bring in at least 200,000 analytics jobs in the Philippines in the next five years.

Where do we get the trained manpower? Mariels immediately started the painstaking work of putting the building blocks together. First stop is the Commission on Higher Education. It didn’t take long for her to convince CHED Chairman Dr Patricia Licuanan to share this vision and make it a reality.

Mariels brought in IBM experts, as well as signed up local professionals to craft a curriculum for college students who want to become Analytics professionals. With the curriculum done, Dr. Licuanan issued a Memorandum Order that incorporated Analytics in the undergraduate curricula for Business and IT…

By 2015, or next year, the first graduates will be ready to take on the industry requirements for Analytics. We have become the first country to declare Analytics as a profession. Among the schools that adopted the CHED curriculum for Analytics include UP, Ateneo, La Salle, Asian Institute of Management and Asia Pacific College.

That is how an iconic multinational, because of the social entrepreneurship of its local country head, integrated CSR into their business model. It is a win/win situation for IBM, the country, our educational system and our young people.

I think more private companies, specially those who are now benefitting from the BPO industry should also invest in education and training the way IBM did. That’s how to make this industry sustainable by producing a stream of trained professionals ready to work in their companies.

Call Centers

Here is one interesting e-mail reacting to our column.

Great article, Boo.

As a training and quality professional in the industry, and based on a decade of call center experience, I have to say that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. We have been for a few of years now.

I remember, way back in 2004, waiting for my turn to be interviewed for an agent position and being really intimidated at some of the folks there. When I was hired, we had 2 summa cum laude grads from the top 5 universities, in my training class. Most of us belonged in the top 10 schools.

The hiring process was rigorous to the point of exhausting. There were interviews, tests, more interviews, more tests – a lot went home disappointed. LNowadays, if you check, you’ll see job postings that say you can get hired in a day.

Now, centers hire by the viking horde to cater to client demand. Around 2010, when I was a senior trainer, there were numerous times I found myself scratching my head and at a loss as recruitment sent me another batch of trainees who would not have passed the first and second phases of the recruitment process like in the previous years.

As a quality manager, I am no stranger to numerous requests by operations to retrieve calls because of complaints from customers. Sadly, if you do listen to some of these calls, you will find the agent at fault. Then, upon further investigation, I get disturbed as I find out that some of the agents’ communication skills training were cut short so that they can meet the client demand. This is just wrong.

I  am not saying that there is no hope. The call center industry leaders are working with the government in coming up with programs to help increase basic skills at a grassroots level. Most of the big call centers now have University programs. Some have public school free training to start kids on English at a young age.

But then again, all this will be for naught if greed and arrogance step in to sweep the competency rug from under us.

I know I still will get to listen to terrible calls, but what keeps me going is that the struggle for excellence is still there. There still are young men and women who will make foreign customers happy as they strive to be excellent and show the world why the Philippines is still the first choice in call center services. We just need to step back and re-asses.


Call Center Ninja

Sec, pAbaya

I had this line in my column last Friday: Sec Abaya has done nothing and has earned the moniker netizens gave him: Sec pAbaya. But my editor did not get the play on Sec Abaya’s name and so took out the p. The sentence made no sense without the p.

One more thing… we should have an independent body to investigate transportation accidents like the NTSB or National Transportation Safety Board in the US. Having a committee from DOTC to investigate a DOTC entity operating MRT3 can only produce a biased report. Since the DOTC Sec already blamed the drivers, how can a probe body reporting to him say otherwise?

ATM scams

Recent reports of ATM account holders losing money in their accounts due to unauthorized withdrawals should alarm the BSP. There should be a rule requiring banks to text account holders of withdrawals beyond P5000 or even a thousand. This will alert the account holder.

Victims of ATM scams are surprised to learn they no longer have money in their accounts after a series of withdrawals made without their knowledge. It is good that banks like BPI kept their depositors whole.

I am told that in other countries, account holders are automatically texted when a withdrawal is made. BSP should make this a requirement as an added customer service.

This confidence boosting measure will also help banks. Imagine what would happen if people started thinking ATMs can’t be trusted and everyone starts lining up for teller service?