Monday, June 05, 2006

Wanted: Attitudinal Change

Rational Technology for June 11, 2006. Thanks to Danah Fortunato for acting out such convincing Bisaya dialogue.
"Hoy, Inday. Asa man ka mo-adto? Mag-alas diyes na sa gabi-i, dili na angay ing-gawas sa mga babayeng buhat."

"Excuse me, young lady. Where do you think you're going? It's almost 10 o'clock in the evening, you know. It's not proper for young ladies to be out anymore."

It's an accusation straight out of a cheap telenovela, but as with many things in this world, life imitates art. Yes, in this day and age, we can still hear that guilt-stirring admonition of a parent to a young lady. It might be a cautionary warning to some wayward offspring, but you'd be surprised. That's actually the mother castigating her daughter who's just about to go to work as an agent for a BPO.

Negros Oriental is now home to an international copyediting facility, two medical transcription companies, an animation company, and soon, a major call center operation. In just a span of two years, we've seen business process outsourcing (BPO) take root. Well beyond simple hype, the nascent BPO industry is producing those much needed jobs. By next year, we will have close to 2,000 employees working in the various BPO operations in the province.

While we can point to our superlative fiber-optic capacity, our high quality of life, our low cost of doing business, and an excellent educational system as the conditions that attracted BPOs into Negros Oriental, we have to address another factor that could bring all this crashing down. This factor is one of attitude.

For the first time in its history, Negros Oriental is seeing the arrival of 24-hours-a-day seven-days-a-week business operations. For a work culture that's built around an nine-to-five schedule, this comes as a bit of a shock. Going out to work at ten in the evening? Unthinkable! Unprecedented! Unconscionable! What will the neighbors think?

Amusedly, we might chalk it up to the old habits of the previous generation, but it's much more endemic and much deeper-rooted than that. It's quite visible in the work attitudes of the young BPO agents themselves. The manager of one of our local BPOs highlighted two incidents: first, the bulk of their agents absent themselves from work on account of rain (justifiable perhaps in Manila where they have floods, but not here where we don't); and second, their work schedule was thrown off on account of 'pista.'

Incidents like these are, well, more than a little embarrassing. Indeed, what will our neighbors think, not to mention our customers and investors? It would be the ultimate shame if our BPO industry collapsed owing to a lack of urgency and professionalism. We need a change of attitude.

But wait! We're not done yet. It's not just the parents and it's not just the employees, either. The problem can also be said to extend to the support services required to sustain a 24/7 BPO operation. Surprisingly, BPO woes are not alien from ours. The BPOs that have set up shop here also complain about the lack of stable and consistent power supply. They also complain about the inadequate interconnection between Cruztelco and Globe ("....sorry, all circuits are busy now...please try your call later....") They complain about the lack of adequate lighting along the highway.

Like a broken record that's played on too long, we already know the stock responses. "It's not NORECO2's fault; it's GenCo's fault; it's TransCo's fault." "It's not Globe's fault; it's Cruztelco's." "It's not Cruztelco's fault; it's Globe's." "It's not the city's fault; it's the province's." "It's not the province's fault; it's the city's." Blah. Blah. Blah. But you know what? It doesn't matter whose fault it is. It still boils down to a lack of professionalism and urgency. We need a change of attitude.

But wait! We're not done yet. It's not just the parents and it's not just the employees and it's not just the support services. The problem extends to our local government leaders whose job it is to set a vision for the province and work towards that vision. Yet how many local administrators are aware of the provisions and incentives granted by PEZA whose benefits some BPOs enjoy? When one of the BPOs invited LGU officials to an open forum on their operations, only two showed up.

Really, it doesn't help at all when the leaders of the Negros Oriental continue to show a marked lack of understanding of the BPO phenomenon that's happening in the province. At the IT workshop where these revelations came to light, Gov. George Arnaiz (in a speech read by Provincial Board Member Arturo Umbac, as the governor could not make it) disingenuously began: "I admit I know nothing of IT...I have only recently acquired an email account..." While the governor should be commended for his candor, his continued ignorance of IT bespeaks something else. Sir, it's the 21st centure. This is not an image to project to constituents or investors. We need a change of attitude.

In contrast, Vice Mayor William Ablong shows a bit more savvy when he talks about the capabilities of IT. However, he approaches it from its negative effects, such as its use for criminal purposes. As with any tool, it's essential to have an understanding of its potential for good and evil; but we should not start from a foothold of fear, but from hope. We need a change of attitude.

Possibly the most distressing report, though, concerns the reason for attrition in the local BPO positions. In Manila, BPO employees quit their company in favor of another one that offers a premium in salary or better working conditions. In Negros Oriental, BPO employees quit their company because:

* "La-ay na man. Pahuway sa ko." (I'm tired. I think I'll just take a break first.)

* "Mag-eskwela na lang ko ug caregiver para maka-abroad." (I'll study to be a caregiver so I can go abroad.)

* "Dili gusto si Mama nga mag-trabaho ko didto." (Mom doesn't want me to work here.)

And really, that's just so sad. Understandable enough that someone quit because the salary is low or because the conditions are intolerable. But to quit because of a lack of ambition? We need a change of attitude.
"Ah! Ing-ana ba di-ay? Hala! Sige. Pag-resign na lang ka anang trabaho-a kaysa madaot atong pangalan sa atong mga silingan. Magpuyo na lang ka dinhi sa balay. Mientras na-a pa ko'y kusog, mas ma-ayo pa nga palamunon na lang tika kaysa magtrabaho ka ni-anang call center."

"Oh? Is that so? Alright, fine. Resign your job. I don't want our family name ruined among our neighbors. Just stay at home. While I have the strength, I'll be the one to feed you. Rather than have you work at center!"


  1. A true and interesting viewpoint here. I wonder if this also applies to Davao...? How many call centers have opened in Davao now?

  2. Davao has one call center and a couple of medical transcription facilities. I think the things I've described don't really happen in Davao. But Davao has it's own share of perception problems, owing to the fact that it's in Mindanao. You know, where they have running gunbattles and bombings. What gunbattles and bombings? Ah....