Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pinoys are drilled to master reciting call-center scripts


There are two types of training—general and specific.

General training is provided to a group of people regardless of their profession. It involves the teaching of skills and the infusion of characteristics that are equally useful in a number of firms, industries or occupations.

Specific training is given to a group of people sharing the same or similar nature of work. It is training valuable only to the specific firm that gives it.

General training crosses borders in the area of skills, knowledge and competency. Specific training is limited to the skills, knowledge and competency required within the borders of one’s job description.

Most of the time, general training is the responsibility of local government units and departments. Examples of these are DTI’s Livelihood Training Programs, DepEd’s Information and Computer Technology (ICT) Literacy Training Programs and TESDA’s Community-Based Training and Enterprise Development.

TESDA Enterprise Development graduates acquire skills that allow them to venture into businesses within their communities.

Specific training is the sole responsibility of firms and companies. Examples of these are product briefings and sales training for drug, sales and marketing companies. Particular areas of knowledge and skills are given to upgrade the employees’ knowledge, skills and competence as required for the jobs available in the company.

GMA-TESDA’s program is specific training

The President’s TESDA-managed Training for Work Scholarships falls in the category of specific training. The program provides its participants with the basics and skills to qualify for the call-center job.

The course outline includes training in communication and listening skills, diction and intonation and touches a little on grammar, customer service and sales, which is exactly what a call-center trainer would administer to his trainees.

Why subsidize such a program? Call-center training should be the sole responsibility of the call-center companies.

Ironically, the call centers are aware of this fact. Many of these companies have established training programs in house or in partnership with private universities and human resource companies.

For instance, outsourcer FuturePerfect is helping the MapĂșa Institute of Technology develop its English-language curriculum and gearing it to its specific requirements. IBM-Daksh, on the other hand, is providing voice and accent training for students of the Asia Pacific College. John Clements Consulting has tied up with TESDA to train so-called near-hires in several remote regions in the Philippines.

In Mrs. Arroyo’s speech at the recent opening of one of the country’s biggest call centers, she said, "We have released P500 million for scholarships to what we call ‘call-center finishing schools’ to make your jobs easier when you’re looking for customer-care agents."

Is the President having that program implemented to relieve call centers of their burdens of training their employees and near hires? Will the program guarantee its participants that they will improve their chances of landing a job as call-center agents?

Shouldn’t the aim be to improve the English and skills proficiency of as many Filipinos as possible so that they can land jobs not just in call centers but also in other BPO fields?

My brother works as operations supervisor and part-time trainer in one of the country’s largest call centers. He reveals that most call centers require familiarity with US cities and states and area codes. Although grammar and comprehension are a plus, most call centers don’t focus on those areas, but on voice mechanics, particularly accent and diction.

"Our trainees are provided with a one-page article which they will record. The recording should contain elements of American speech—again, in accent and diction. The final recorded piece will be our basis on whether we will give the trainee a job offer or not."

The training given under the Presidents’ TESDA program is almost identical to most call centers’ in-service training programs. TESDA disclosed that its call-center courses are based on the training curriculum of the call centers.

Materials gathered by The Times show that program participants will be trained in how to answer phone calls and in voice mechanics (proper tone, rate, pitch, volume and that elusive American accent). Other areas in the training curriculum include product briefing and marketing and grammar improvement.

Read, memorize and master

It can therefore be correctly said that the training given by call centers is "scripted." And therefore the training received by scholars in the President’s TESDA program is for them to learn to read, memorize and master the script so they can recite it sounding like Americans.

Trainees learn to use scripts and ready-made lines of speech to be used to answer customers’ questions and requests for help. The scripts and answers give the feeling that quality customer service is being given by the call-center agent—who speaks with an acceptable American accent.

Is this what Filipinos really need to multiply their ability to contribute to economic productivity?

If it is still the aim of the government to provide Filipinos with skills and competencies, why limit the areas of knowledge to the requirements of call centers? Why follow scripts that curtail one’s potentials? If graduates of the finishing course fail in the initial steps of screening and hiring, what other options do they have? If they are hired as call-center agents, but eventually want a career change, where will they start?

The government should give training that will upgrade the Filipinos’ skills not only in one area but in all areas.

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