In a separate interview, Karl Mark (not his real name), who has been working in a call center since 2003, said that those who get accepted to work as call center agents tend to come from the middle to upper strata of the middle classes. They usually come from expensive private schools known for their good English training – most notably the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and other similar schools which cater to the more affluent classes. A student in Ateneo will spend around P100, 000 ($1,955) per year. De La Salle charges from P42, 000-P53, 000 ($821-$1036) each semester or around P120, 000 – P159, 000 ($2347-$3110) for a trimester. These schools are inaccessible to the ordinary Filipino.
Karl Mark confirmed that call centers indeed place a premium on oral English proficiency.
This was especially true, he says, in the earlier years of the call center industry in the Philippines. Call centers began operating in the Philippines in 2000, he says. “During those days they had really high standards for accepting applicants,” he says. “You had to be a college graduate and fluent in spoken English, otherwise they wouldn’t take you in.”
While the requirements have been eased somewhat, owing to the increasing needs of call centers, applicants who are good English speakers still have the advantage. They now accept college undergraduates – something Tom has been banking on in his hope to get in – but the stress on oral English skills is still there.
Most call centers now accept applicants who speak with heavy accents but with the correct grammar. But they have to undergo 80-hour training in American accent and culture, Karl Mark says.
In most call centers, newly-hired employees undergoing training are not paid, he further discloses. Only the large call centers like Convergys, Sykes, and and E-Telecare pay trainees, he says.
Good English speakers, mostly coming from expensive private schools, still have the edge as they usually do not have to go through the lengthy training, he added – they make money right away.
Call center agents receive relatively high pay compared to rank and file employees and workers of most companies. But these are inadequate if one has a family or is not living with their parents. Karl Mark says. “Many of my officemates and even my friends who work in other call centers have been asking for wage increases,” he says. “They find it increasingly difficult to cope with inflation and additional taxes.”
In a March 30 statement, Prestoline Suyat, spokesperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement), said call center agents in the Philippines earn way below what their counterparts in the U.S. get.
“The minimum wage in the U.S. is $4 an hour,” Suyat told Bulatlat in a follow-up interview. “That is equivalent to roughly P40, 000 ($782) a month, which means call center agents in the U.S. could actually be earning more than that.”
Aside from the increasingly inadequate pay, Karl Mark says call center agents are actually overqualified considering their educational background.
“Many call center agents are actually graduates of courses like engineering, computer science, nursing, pre-law, psychology and other – who got into this line of work because they could find no other jobs,” he says. “Their potentials are not maximized because their work is focused on customer service, which is not what most of them studied during their four or five years in college.”
Verbal abuse is also staple fare for them, he admits. “Everyday you have to talk to foreigners who think nothing of hurling invectives at you for what they perceive as poor service,” he explains.
“The best” at present
“It is sad that the best our government can offer right now are jobs at call centers,” he
Despite all these, Tom still hopes to get a shot at a call center job. “That still turns out to be the best option right now for people like me,” he says. “I hope I get hired soon.” (Bulatlat.com)