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Ranked second in the business process outsourcing industry, the Philippines goes after India by adopting a new recruitment trend for contact centers

“It’s all about hitting the next post,” quips Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P) chief executive officer Oscar Sanez, who walked the 102-kilometer Bataan Death March trail the weekend before his speech.

Sanez, who staggered his way to the podium, relates his experience on trail to the program launch of the BPA/P National Competency Test (BNCT), which he deems a good example of “pushing the limits.” This holds true, in a way, considering that some IT-BPO companies in the country still practice an antiquated form of recruitment process: having applicants write down their answers to a screening exam on separate sheet of paper, or making them spend the whole day in serpentine lines just for a chance at an entrance exam or interview.

Thanks to BNCT, qualifying tests for contact centers will now be standardized, making answer sheets virtually obsolete. Eyeing the country’s yearly average of 450,00 graduates and entry-level applicants as targets, the test aims to produce “industry-ready talents” for the outsourcing field.

For 500 pesos, a student can take the test at Authorized Testing Centers (ACTs) in partner schools like the University of Makati, Jose Rizal University, Far Eastern University, Centro Escolar University, St. Michael’s College-Laguna and Ateneo de Manila University.

Students will be tested based on verbal and numerical learning ability, English proficiency, perceptual speed, accuracy or attention to detail, computer literacy, and service orientation. Results will be electronically sent to test-takers in real time, and will be posted online (bpacareers.com) where top companies can search through the top 20% of applicants, or through individual profiles.

Aside from shortening the long recruitment process, the BNCT is also aimed at increasing the ratio of successful applicants in the IT-BPO field. While rosy forecasts on the country’s sunshine industry appear on every broadsheet, with revenues skyrocketing to a projected US$9 billion in 2010 from 2009‘s U$7.3 billion, employment in the sector seems to be slowing down.

The BPA/P reports that in 2009, the industry only hired 436,000 applicants. This year, only about 100,000 people will be added to the IT-BPO workforce. “At the end of the day, it is all about matching the supply with demand because so far BPO companies get to hire around three to five in 100 applicants. We have to increase that ratio,” says Sanez, who sees BNCT as an indirect cure for the ailing employment rate in the outsourcing sector.

Helping those people left behind is also a feature of the two-and-a-half-hour BNCT test. Applicants who fail the test can retake it, but only after a certain waiting period of one to two months.

For the program, the BPA/P teamed up with Assessment Analytics and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). A million pesos has already been released by the government to fund the first 2,000 tests says BPA/P executive director Jamea Garcia. CICT, meanwhile, will grant seed money of 62 million pesos for advertising and promotion.

Before rolling out the program this month, a norm validation study will be conducted from March 8 to April 15. The program will be tested on a sample composed of 1,000 students and BPO employees.

A downside of this program, however, is that all of the components are of equal weight. A consultant from a notable BPO support service in the country comments that poor English comprehension is one of the major factors that force applicants to “drop out” of companies, or fail to qualify for first-level screening. In the end, everything boils down to the standards set by the companies, and all that the BPA/P’s BNCT can do is measure and record.

Sanez is optimistic, though, as the immediate feedback and test result turnaround could be a great help for the academe in improving their curriculum, thus, creating a larger window of opportunity in the industry for students. This seems like a surefire way to meet the 600,000-employee target that will increase the Philippines’ chances of reaching the US$12-billion export revenue mark by 2011.

NASSCOM, India’s answer to the BPA/P, has been using a similar testing software for the last two years. An emerging economy, India’s IT-BPO revenues reached a whopping US$50 billion in 2009. This hike in numbers was propelled by the presence of 450 delivery centers in 60 countries.

With BPO recruitment moving away from pen-and-paper tests to online ones, it will be easier for firms to weed out unqualified applicants, and for applicants to focus on areas that need improvement. Isn’t it about time that the BPO industry gets some IT support of its own?

Print ed: 04/10


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