Funds sought for BPO upskilling

The Contact Center Association of the Philippines expects 2.7-3.2% revenue growth rate from 2020 to 2022, based on an Everest Group report. — COURTESY OF CONTACT CENTER ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES

By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will need funding to scale up its upskilling program and reach hundreds of thousands of employees to address industry demands, an industry group official said.

Benedict C. Hernandez, chair of the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), said the industry has been working with the Department of Information and Communications Technology to train thousands of workers.

“I think we can do this at a bigger level if we can actually fund it,” he said in an online video interview.

“It needs to go up into the hundreds of thousands,” he said. “I think it will just position us better to accelerate growth and maintain our top global position.”

The industry group had once again cut its revenue and employment targets up to 2022, reflecting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for employment is projected at 2.7-5%, which would mean 1.37-1.43 million full-time employees.

This is the second time IBPAP cut targets from the 8% employment CAGR set in 2016, after pressures arising from geopolitical issues, automation, protectionist policies, and the rapid transformation of business models lowered projections.

BPO revenues inched up 1.4% after the pandemic disrupted operations last year.

Mr. Hernandez noted that the industry’s hiring accelerated in the latter half of 2020, and expects a “decent return to growth” in 2021.

“We were busy hiring and growing last year, and we will be even busier in hiring and growing this year.”

The Contact Center Association of the Philippines expects 2.7-3.2% revenue growth rate from 2020 to 2022, based on an Everest Group report. Some industry group members expect higher growth despite the strict lockdowns in Metro Manila.

For the whole industry, the revenue projection stands at 3.2-5.5% CAGR.

“While staying afloat was the focus for many businesses like the contact center sector in 2020, the attention has now shifted to growth and helping jumpstart the economy through hybrid work setup and intensified vaccination efforts,” CCAP President Jojo Uligan said in a statement.

TELUS International Philippines’ Vice-President for Digital Solutions Nalakumar “Nala” RS said that automation will not threaten job security, as these technologies are backed by people training artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to perform tasks.

But he said that the increasing digital requirements also widened the skills gap.

“Although the pandemic didn’t create the skills gap, its far-reaching implications have widened the gaps and amplified the demands,” the Telus executive said in an e-mail. “Customer support is a perfect example of the urgent need for upskilling and reskilling.”

Grocery stores move employees from the floor to online order fulfillment while contact centers transferred employees to clients that have increased demand, he added.

“TELUS International reallocated team members from travel and hospitality brands that were seeing a decline in business during COVID-19 to support brands that saw an increase in business like gaming and e-commerce companies.”

He said that he expects companies to change recruitment criteria to target people with more technology skills, and he added that benchmarks for industry skills should be set to help government and private firms align training needs.

Mr. Hernandez, who also leads intelligent operations client experience for Accenture Asia Pacific, said that talent access has been the top issue seen by industry players.

Accenture has changed thousands of transactions-based jobs to specialized business advisor and data science roles by updating its training and recruitment strategies.

“Everybody’s fighting over data scientists, more experienced people in BPO, whether it’s clinical nursing kind of talent or banking, insurance, financial services kind of experts. So, there is demand for general talent overall, and there’s also a bigger fight for specialized talent,” he said. 

“The trick is you leverage all of these digital technologies — whether it’s AI, analytics, cloud, and all — but you have to invest in your own people so that they can be prepared to do the next interesting thing. If you don’t upskill them, then you will encounter a situation where ‘I don’t have a role for you anymore.’”

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