Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Are Our Call Centres Killing Initiative ?

A friend of mine who has typical middle class ambitions for his children was recently worried that his children might not choose to pursue them. Not that he wanted to impose his dreams or wishes on his children. He was happy for his children to do any thing they considered worthwhile, as long as they took up some thing that was honorable and respectable and made the maximum use of the skills and abilities they had.

His greatest worry was that his sons might be bitten by the call centre bug and might not even explore the boundaries of their potential. Instead of trying to explore what else they could do that might hone their god given gifts, they might just settle down into a mediocre routine that would make them relatively well paid but glorified clerks .His even bigger worry was that his son’s peer group and even his social mentors thought that this was fine. If you went down this route, you earned enough to get by and there was supposedly more time for leisure and recreation that most people living in the cities seem to miss out on.

There was a time in the not too distant past when the specter of the educated unemployed in India was huge. In a typically controlled economy, jobs were scarce as they were largely available in the government sector and the public sector companies. This led to the phenomenon of candidates paying several months of their salary to middle men to be assured of jobs. Justice Rajinder Sachar in an article written for the Hindu in 2001 bemoaned the fact that for recruitment to the lower constabulary, bribes up to a couple of lakhs of rupees per post have to be paid to political masters

In such a situation of course BPO emerged as the silver lining. Being a sunrise sector, jobs started shifting from the recession-hit industries, providing employment to a large number of youth entering the job market and ready to grasp new opportunities. The Hindu in another analysis says that Call Centers brought sizeable income to those who were worried about their careers and brought economic independence to many young people.

However the same analysis asks worrying questions to suggest that my friend’s worries about his sons are not unfounded. The article titled “BPO fallout: Youth shelving books for bucks” goes on to say that while Call Centers provided employment to those who did not have access to higher education owing to financial or other such constraints, The lure of big bucks offered by BPO units has seen a large number of students dropping out of colleges and opting for jobs instead. And eventually the sector may turn out to be a catchment area for all those who prefer money to education unwilling to give up a bright today for an unknown tomorrow.

As in any sunrise industry, the social dynamics of the sector are yet to be studied in depth though the stress and frustration associated with this line of work is beginning to be documented. Further a cultural divide between IT sector employees and local citizens is beginning to emerge and it seems that while economic prosperity might have reduced poverty levels, it has also widened inequalities, particularly in urban areas. Outlook magazine had documented some thing similar recently with respect to Bangalore.

According to an article on the Internet portal, It is a well-known fact that many call center executives today are expressing concern about their lifestyles and general health. The fact however remains that the lure of big money is irresistible to youngsters. However, the lure of the industry remains. No other industry offers freshers a pay of Rs 12,000 that too as soon as they have cleared Class XII. The perks are also awesome — pick-up and drop facilities, swanky offices, subsidized canteen facilities, regular parties, incentives and bonuses. And the only skill one needs to have is good communication and language skills. Some thing that all those working with young people and counseling youth should be tracking with concern.


Roy said...

I am slightly disappointed that a multi dimensional issue like career has been reduced into a mono dimensional one. Like the profession you choose to critique - call centers. And then that the article criticises the child while excusing the parent. Lets look at these for a minute.
Every child inherits its mind from the family apart from the genes. I understand that adults have the power to make their own choices but largely in India it doesnt happen. Does it ?
If the friend has middle class ambitions then isnt it also true that middle class mentality like money while at the same time despising it ? in other words we have no take on wealth accumulation and its certianly not discussed in churches. bible believing youngsters are confused if wealth is good or bad thanks to verses like ' its easier for a camel to enter the....than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God'.

Next the academic types scoring high science and maths marks all go onto be doctors and engineers shantanu. It is only the low scoring, poor-in-science good-in-literature types aka the academically despised ones who are left over. Of the few career options they have , call centers are not so bad are they ?. If we will criticise them and make them feel bad about the call center also where will they go for a career which the country anyway doesnt offer ?
On the other hand we should take a second look at the call center and see what role it really plays in the value chain. So what if one isnt a doctor or a engineer - have they done much for the public good ? And modern medicine too has a history doesnt it - in the 1500's they were as unscientific as anyone else.

When services sector such as ITES do form a part of the GDP which we so much espouse right ? so why criticise them ?
While parents may espouse noble values they never are able to resolve the tension between money and career values. If parents had truly stood up for their career values and chosen careers which they loved then they wud have achieved high laurels in it isnt it ? the child grows up with such dichotomy and realises that money is crucial though criticised. It also notes that though the call center job is criticised the parent appreciates the money , the car and the house that the call center bought. In due time parents and society accept that call centers and customer support is indeed a career....why blame only the child for deciding to do customer support ?

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