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Is Talent Mismatch Affecting the Call Center Industry?

Few weeks back, I talked to someone who is in the business of imparting soft skills training. We talked to close to half an hour and the main issue he raised was deterioration in the standards of service over the period of time. I think, many Americans would agree that as far as the voice based call center services are concerned, the standards have gone down considerably. Why? Despite having huge talent, voice based bpo services are heading towards Philippines. Probably talent has nothing much to do with customer service, all that it requires is clear communication, lots of patience and problem resolution. Before you take your knives out, yes I concede, this requires talent too, but not the intellectual one, but from the point of service orientation.

 

I recently had another interesting discussion on the same on LinkedIn. My argument was two folds -"Philippines is attracting voice related BPO Projects as their accent and culture is more close to United States. And, the only gap which the Indian government can fill is the gap between availability and employability of our resource. ”

 

Lets first address the accent problem - Accent is something which has a certain limitation and can be neutralized only to a certain extent. Indians speak Queen’s English and hence American Rs and Ts do not come naturally to them. Having said that regardless of accent limitation, the effort should be on serving the customer with utmost patience.

 

Now comes the next issue of having over qualified unemployed or underemployed workforce.The tons of engineers we produce are certainly unsuitable for customer service. No wonder, companies who advertise for call center jobs, specially says "NO Engineers".

 

This brings us to another point. Why most of our engineers remain unemployed? Despite enormous talent, why India still lags behind in research and development, moreover what is the future of our engineers.

 

The root of the problem lies in our education system which is defective and is out of sync with the industry’s requirement. The quality of graduates which we churn every year is pathetically low if we leave the colleges in and around the metropolitan cities. No wonder, these colleges in the tier 2 or tier 3 cities have become a degree distribution machinery and hence we get millions of graduates who are simply unfit to be employed. What is the solution?

 

The answer lies in industry and academics partnership. Here are the few suggestions borrowed from various panelists on a TV show (which I don’t remember), nonetheless are very relevant in our context. Here they are

 

1. Internship for minimum six months should be made mandatory. (either within the campus or at the company locations)

 

2. Change in curriculum - Industry should have certain representation and say in the drafting stage of college curriculum.

 

3. Innovative means of education - We have seen digital multimedia classroom (educomp style) at the school level, but this is missing at the college level.

 

4. Student should be encouraged to participate in company’s online interactive forums. This will give them a hang of what is happening inside the industry, topics being talked about etc.

 

5. Emphasis on industry wide recognized certifications like Cisco, Nasscom QAI, etc.

 

6. Soft Skills Training: Emphasis on better communication and presentation skills along with basic Computer knowledge. (I made this point from the point of view of those students who study in non metro locations)

I believe if our education or HRD Minister takes these points into consideration, the problem of unemployment can be solved to a certain extent. Moreover, when we are in middle of an economic downturn, it is advisable to invest in education of our youth. This will make huge difference when economy surges back and creates plethora of opportunities.

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Tags: bpo, call, center, education, industry, mismatch, outsourcing, talent

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Comment by Amit Saxena on July 13, 2013 at 12:11pm

Thanks Paul! Great to see you here. I quoted our conversation here :)
Yes, you are right that the "talent shortage" is an all industry wide phenomena. You are perfectly spot on, when you say that if we need to groom next level of mangers or team leaders, we need to make the effort to "fill the gap". I would also like to quote, Phil Fersht's findings that "companies are no longer contented with the managers who simply maintain the continuity of the existing opeartions, instead they want new ideas, innovations from them."

Comment by Paul Peixoto on July 13, 2013 at 3:43am

Amit,

You raise some great points here. The heart of the call center talent problem reveals a more systemic problem, though. The BPO industry is not the only industry to be dealing with this "talent shortage." Aspiring Minds, in their annual "employability" report lists MBA grad's employability somewhere between 10-20%. This is across all concentrations. Part of the problem is the average student's desire to "gain certification." But certification usually concentrates on hard skills - the ability to perform a specific function. The problem with that focus is that business processes involve communicating thoughts and ideas from person to person. And high-level business involves communicating complex thoughts. To simply think that a certain certification will get you a position in a firm without the required communication skills is short sighted.

Unless the average student or entry level employee raises their communication skill level they will be locked in the lower echelons of the corporate ladder. Programs need to be designed to "fill the gap" that the higher education institutions are creating.

Cheers,
Paul Peixoto

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