This year will mark my 10th year working in an industry, I never imagined to find a niche and a home. It has been a blessed career of which one can only really be thankful for. I met my better half through this Industry, too, so I guess that speaks a lot of the blessed career, I was talking about.
The irony is that, never in my wildest imagination did I ever consider working in the Call Center Industry, which had been my primary source of income, to this day. I recall my early years in college when the industry was just picking up. People working nights, jacketed, carrying mugs and without uniform. In 2006 that was revolutionary. Just like any other revolutionary thing, not a lot of people understood what went inside their buildings of operation. Perhaps, it was enough to know that they were earning more than those who are in the regular day shift and working in industries aligned to their college degrees.
Like most teenagers, my ignorance and hubris made me think that I will never work in the Call Center. Graduating with some honours in high school and getting accolades can easily manipulate anyone to think they were destined to change the stars. Well, I still think we all are, we just have different ways to get there, most of us went straight away, some had to take some detours. These digressions, however, more often than not, like fire unraveling metal, transforms many. Some of the biggest names in many fields discovered something magical in themselves taking these forks on the road.
We know of how Shakespeare may not have necessarily dreamt of the playwright he has become, of Giorgio Armani who was a medical student then solider to fashion icon and of Han Solo, I mean, Harrison Ford, who for 15 years was a professional carpenter turned movie icon.
So there I am digressing, but the point is that the industry, that I, with hubris, felt mundane did not just turn out to be the most stimulating, complex, and fulfilling job, but also, where I will spend a decade of my life and career. Gosh, the irony. Life can indeed be stranger than fiction.
Just like any other expectations colliding with reality, things turned out differently than I expected. The jobs the industry offered was far from menial, that it was never a dead end nor was it less meaningful compared to all others out there. Most importantly, that the people who are part of the industry were far from being dull, uninteresting, and unimaginative, as I bet some think they are. In truth, they were some of the most brilliant minds I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with.
We may not necessarily see them paint the Sistine, carve the La Pieta nor write Das Kapital, but the leaders, shakers and movers of the industry had created a legacy of excellence that had provided countless jobs for many with a sizable pay for comfortable living, which otherwise would not had been around or difficult to find. While writing this line, I can only draw a parallel to those frontier pioneers in the Old West, who pushed boundaries amidst the harsh conditions or those great sailors in search for the New World. They were that, minus all the praise and mention, of course.
Over the years, while the people in it and the industry itself had proven to be an anchor for the economy, the same uneducated thinking I had, from when in college, still permeates many of the old school business orthodoxy and popular opinion. During the 2014 election, those in the Contact Center industry who supported the popular Presidential bid, received terrible backlash and shaming about their noveau riche attitude of getting coffee from Starbucks, or their unseemly fashion and gaudy behavior at times. Technically these things are quite peculiar to those uninitiated into the industry, but I guess, much more curious, for some (not generalizing) in high society, to whom these comforts were only affordable to,in the past. Seeing it be accessible to most working class people, can just be irritating.
Hopping back to 2020, when most of the industries had to close due to the pandemic, the Contact Center industry, remained as vibrant as it can be. The people in it, risking their lives day in and out, primarily because, we all know that our government has to aid those in dire need first, and people want to secure better days for themselves, but coincidentally it helped the economy. Imagine how many people would have lost employment and then how it would have impacted the meager budget the country had at its disposal, if operations halted. The meltdown would have been biblical in proportions. Employing 1.35 million people and reaching 22.1 billion US dollars in revenue in 2017 and projected to hit 7.8 percent annual growth in full-time employees the It-BPO Industry may overtake OFW dollar remittances. (Curran Daly & Associates)
Yet, amidst that contribution, we are still a minority in many discussions, policy-making and other substantial strategies to nation building (totally, just my opinion and observation). Just because, people in our industry do not necessarily brandish PhDs or CPAs, or we have job descriptions that do not necessarily fall under the old school encyclopedia of work, the government and popular opinion think we are bereft of intellectual enterprise and do not engage BPO/Call Center organizations who are impacted by policy making (if we are, it never hit the news, not even fake news, so must be very little interaction there).
This proved true, when COVID hit and every organization were left to fend for themselves or die out. There was just really no other way. At the height of the pandemic’s onslaught, I recall the challenge of transporting my team to the office. How to have them cross between borders, not including how we can have vans pick them up with such chaotic border policy variations. There was little to no attention, no message, not even any sort of pat on the back (at least that I am aware of and I could be wrong), that was felt before, during and after the lockdowns and strict restrictions to the people and the employers who were fighting so hard to juggle workforce health, welfare and capability to provide for their families at the same time. The most heartbreaking story, I dare share, is of someone in my team, getting mugged while waiting for the company van (we probably just needed some security at least, but not even that, the borders are much more important, of course). Ultimately, our supersonic Internet connection, put the final nail in the coffin, for what would have been a defining factor in getting majority of the workforce work from home. As BPO company’s strive to protect their employees and comply to safety protocols while keeping business afloat, we are then plagued with consistent network issues that is truly bad for the nature of the business. I still remember presenting something and getting disconnected in the middle of it, that was how bad it was (it was only respect that kept our counterparts from much developed countries to not jeer at us for having such bad connection all the time).
So enough about my 2020 rants. My wife is a nurse, and truly, whatever ordeal we, in the BPO, had to go through, must have been nothing to what our medical professionals had to brave and take in every day (Salute to them). Yes, she is the same lady on the picture, that I met when we both worked in the BPO. She chose to heed her calling, I stayed on.
Going back to my point, just because, we have a workforce, hugely composed of undergraduates that are earning more compared to most line of work offered, the industry is viewed as a source of juvenile antics and shenanigans. You here comments like, “Ohw, that is why he is like that, he works in a Call Center”, or “That’s why, people in the Call Center are always like that”. I use to remember being asked what my line of work is, alongside some friends and cousins. When they are asked, and respond–teacher, clerk, bank teller or engineer, there is that good job, two thumbs up seal of approval, whereas the longest response I get is an “ohw” or a verbal nod which normally meant, “okay, no point in talking about what you do” or “that is probably why you have tattoos grow a beard and smoke”.
Judgment is rendered to generalize the industry due to stories of habitually defaulting on loans, excessive smoking/drinking, revealing clothes, unorthodox fashion and some gaudy lifestyle. While similar to how modern society has truly gotten what being Goth means, that they are all about wearing black and spiky hair styles, compared to being the vibrant and quite artistic people that they were, historically speaking (yes, please check how historically different they are), the generalization of how people in the industry comport themselves is utterly baseless and just rude. Yes, the people and the industry itself has been a pariah amongts its peers.
And I use the term pariah (from the Indian etymology of the word itself), because in a country that still thinks it is staunchly Catholic, the BPO accomodates individuality, free thinking and the idea of the ‘self-made man’. We also welcome the LGBT and work towards acceptance and equality for them. So, i guess, that now paints a better picture of the hard handed misgivings people have. The industry, however, contrary to what most may think, is truly a powerhouse of intellectuals, entreprenuers, artists and some of the most remarkably talented individuals who chose to work and juggle responsibility, careers and passions, in a country where for the longest work had been Orwellian in nature.
I am not singing praises to the industry and its titans just to be counted amongst them. Far from it. But I belong to an organization that spans as old as the pyramids, whose membership is blessed by many, if not most, great shakers and movers of the world from the Renaissance to the Philippine Revolution, and I can safely say, that the intellectual and nationalistic dreams of our heroes are more visible in the people who had nurtured, grown and kept the Contact Center industry afloat over the Cebu City Registrar who by the way, closes office on a Monday to disinfect, and the Commission on Elections who had managed to do absentee voting for our dear OFW’s , but had never for once thought about having us vote differently, too, because most of us work at night (maybe our votes do not hold much count, because we make poor choices, yeah?). I kept a list, that can fill volumes about the ineptitude of many government institutions and how if these where managed like how the contact centers are, we would have better service, but will reserve it for next time.
I am capping this note, with my biggest fear for the industry, in the years to come, considering I have had so much joys, memories and learning.
The demands of the industry is growing, evolving, and is a dynamic landscape of which many, if not majority, in the business sector or the government, overlook, as if there is no competition. With the decline or the continuous improvement of other countries as far as Customer Experience and Communication is concerned–we may lose the IT/Call Center/BPO Industry. Our proficiencly in English is obviously dropping, trust me, I have been into far too many interviews to not notice. That, and our good old fashion Filipino politeness, hospitality and respect, yes, these values that had been reknowned worldwide are quickly being forgotten–will prove to be the point when the country that used to be top choice for this industry is surpassed by our neighbors.
Then, when it happens, we would have been those who look back and snap fingers, saying, “we had it, but we let it go”.
That statement may be easy for those who have plenty in their savings accounts, like those in government, or the PhilHealth executives (no pun intended), but to the average Filipino, who did (for good reasons) secure a college degree, or need to work to complete it and for many others who had eke out a decent living which is not quite easy in these parts–it will be devastating.
To those in the BPO Industry, I salute you for staying strong amidst COVID and for all of these years amidst the lack of notice from our dear government. Cheers to you and to us all! Cheers to many more years of growth, shaping lives and growing the economy.