By Charles R. Pepito | Correspondent / Photo courtesy of Cebu City Mayor’s office
IN his recent State of the City Address, Cebu City Mayor Tomas R. Osmeña reiterated his dream of setting up what he calls Call Center City at the 60-hectare portion of the city’s South Road Properties (SRP).
With his sight set at providing the means for the city’s children to go to college, Osmeña wants the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the only place where there are more qualified applicants than people interested in applying. Even though BPOs account for over 100,000 jobs in Cebu City, Osmeña said the call centers here are short of at least 50,000 agents.
“Many of those qualified refuse to join call centers. Even those that do join do not stay employed in the industry. Many quit. Call centers suffer a 4-percent resignation rate every month,” he said.
The reasons Osmeña cited include lack of career growth to inability to study or socialize outside of work to transportation and security concerns.
To address these, he said the government is packaging a program where a call-center agent can finish college while still working. “Later, they can even choose to pursue a master’s degree without resigning. The agent will work, study and live, all in the same building complex so commuting is unnecessary, which will also improve traffic,” Osmeña added.
Movie theaters, restaurants and bars will be right outside, open during the agents’ free time. Class schedules will be adjusted to work schedules so sleep and free time are uninterrupted.
“In the end, an agent will be able to have both a college and a master’s degree debt-free,” he said, adding that this will benefit the entire city.
At the current number of 100,000 employees, BPOs account for P7 billion infused into Cebu City’s economy every month. With an extra 50,000 jobs, this number increases to over P10 billion per month.
“This money doesn’t just enter a call-center agent’s pockets. This is money that goes to the barbecue vendor, the taxi driver, the labandera and the sari-sari store owner, who provide service and goods to the agent. Thus, the agent, through his income, supports the livelihood of other people. This is money that goes to all of Cebu, especially toward our working-class sector,” the mayor said.
He added this program will improve the economy in an even greater way.
“With this program, it is my dream to produce thousands of college and master’s degree graduates every year so that Cebu City will have the most educated population in the Philippines,” he said.
With that, Osmeña added it would be very easy for him to speak to foreign investors.
“Imagine that you are a business executive from an international company looking to expand. Imagine me telling you, ‘Not only does Cebu have the most educated population in the country; the majority of your work force will have years of direct experience in dealing with western clients in a service-oriented environment’,” he said.
Osmeña has been soliciting ideas from everyone in the BPO industry and has been presenting to them his concept of a call-center city.
“If you are a college graduate, how would you like to pursue a master’s degree—without resigning from your job? If you haven’t finished college yet, would you like to?” Osmeña asked the BPO employers in a meeting.
He emphasized this can come true with the operation of Cebu’s Call Center City.
The concept: If the work schedule starts at 9 p.m., classes start earlier and end 30 minutes to 60 minutes before the work shift. The classroom will be in the same building complex as the workplace.
“Imagine: The seamless transition from studying to working means uninterrupted sleep and rest on the other half of your day,” he said. The city also plans to incorporate a dormitory in the same complex.
“Imagine this: You work, study and sleep in the same building. Imagine saving time going to work and school and home because there’s no commuting. Imagine living in a safe environment where you don’t worry walking in a dark street. Imagine not having to look for a taxi in the dark or when it rains. Imagine not having to worry about traffic because there will be none,” Osmeña told the BPO employers.
Osmeña said one must have to consider having to spend 30 percent to 40 percent of one’s salary to pay for board and schooling.
The idea of coming out with this program is to help agents finish college and/or earn a master’s degree completely debt-free while still earning to pay for their basic needs.
“That’s why we will be doing a formal survey. We need to consult you and see if there are enough of you who want to do this. If you are willing to sacrifice two years of your life, you can get your college or master’s degree. This opens up your future,” he said.
Osmeña added they will carefully analyze and streamline the lifestyle offered as they are reinventing the government’s role to help.
He assured the city will do its share to help and, if there are enough BPO workers interested, the city will lend land for free as the government’s contribution to make it financially feasible for the stakeholders: investors, schools, BPOs and the Cebuano workers, whom the whole BPO city will be designed for at the city’s SRP, which is three times bigger than the IT Park.
“Stores, gyms, bars, restaurants, moviehouses will open at 3 a.m. or whenever your free time is. It will be designed to your time zone. The commercial activity must be responsive to your limited budget—no high-end living here, but it will be clean, decent and drug-free,” Osmeña said.
He asked for six months to do the study and another six months to get preliminary commitments from investors and call centers.
Osmeña added said he had already spoken to Convergys, Xerox, Teleperformance, E-Performax, Accenture and Qualfon. Most of them are onboard, and all are reportedly excited about having the opportunity to expand in the city. More than one university is also interested in handling the educational aspect of the plan.
Image credits: Photo courtesy of Cebu City Mayor’s office