Almost there: BPO the Career

"What’s the best way to grow? How do you become a manager? What’s
the long-term career like? What domain skills do you need?"

Funny how I faced the same questions on the BPO industry on opposite sides of
the planet in October, from two very different groups. One, students at a
vocational college in Delhi; and the second, exec-MBAs I was addressing in
Mexico City’s premier IPADE business school.

In Delhi, I found a shift: from the earlier, basic ‘What is it? Do they
just answer phone calls? How much money? What after a call center?’ to BPO
career questions. From ‘My cousin’s friend is in a call center’ to ‘My
neighbor’s a senior manager in a BPO’.

There’s a similar shift we find in the annual E-Sat survey that’s our
cover story this month. Many factors causing people to quit their jobs and jump
companies–or exit the industry–have declined in intensity. They still jump for
salary changes, with ‘loyalty’ often low; and growth opportunity bothers
them a lot. But they’re taking BPO more seriously-as a career.

With explosive growth-61% increase in staff for the Top 5-we expected
employee satisfaction to decline. It usually does. Well, the big BPOs have seen
a little drop, but there’s no significant decline. That’s impressive. They’ve
got their HR act together, maintaining satisfaction through evolving and high
extreme expectations of growth, career, and personal development-across tens
of thousands of employees.

Not all BPOs maintained their own confidence levels as well. We had some
major names opting out of this Employee Satisfaction Survey 2005, citing a range
of issues from ‘internal changes’ to unpreparedness. Camera-shy folks ranged
from Accenture, Convergys, Dell and EXL to HP, HSBC, MsourcE and Wipro BPO.

To keep up growth, BPOs will maintain their hiring spree. But they will
probably explore additional types of businesses across the value chain. Consider
this: the top five added 61% in staff, but 43% in revenues. The equation isn’t
even linear, whereas it needs to be exponential to get around the old problem:
if the industry has to double every two or three years on a 10-lakh-a-head
linear reckoning, wherever will the people come from?

So BPOs will explore the options, including leveraging investments better. A
November DoT (OSP cell) notification now makes it easier for BPOs to share
infrastructure between domestic and export ops, though VoIP use remains a fuzzy

All this will mean more HR complexity, with different types of employees for
daytime domestic work. And packed, 24-hour, three-shift ops.

Whatever the path, policy, or technology, BPO’s scale and HR challenges
next year will be even bigger and more complex than they are now. As BPO becomes
even more of a career than it is today.

Prasanto K Roy

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