Cotabato City enters call center industry

May. 28, 2009

COTABATO CITY — The opening of the first call center in this city is indicative of a new phase in the development of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in Mindanao.

Calcent Link Solutions is now operating the first combined training and outbound call center in Cotabato City, in partnership with Davao City-based BE Sure Outsourcing Company.

“We train [aspiring agents] first and then hire some of them,” said Pete Marquez, Calcent owner and president of the Metro Cotabato Chamber of Commerce.

The firm has already hired several of its training graduates, most of them women, to call for an account in the U.S.

Cotabato City annually produces more than 1,800 college graduates from Notre Dame University, Cotabato City State Polytechnic and 17 other tertiary-level schools. Most of these graduates have majored in accounting or medicine-related disciplines.

There being few white-collar job options in the city, many of these graduates end up working in other places, such as the new wave BPO hubs of Davao and Cagayan de Oro, or further afield in Manila or Cebu.

As these outsourcing hubs grow more congested, however, BPO firms are setting up auxiliary offices in other locations.

“From my hometown in Sultan Kudarat [municipality] I cross the Rio Grande de Mindanao by banca (small boat) then take a jeepney to work,” said agent Sahanie Ali. “Working here is convenient because the cost of living is low and I can go home daily to my family.”

“Setting up BPO operations at the labor source has advantages for both the firms and their local hires. There’s less attrition,” said Renne Subido, deputy program manager for business development of USAid’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (Gem) program, which is helping to expand the region’s outsourcing sector.

“Cotabato can be a focal point for remote, or virtual, training and subcontracting,” he added, pointing out that BPO firms are looking to set up satellite operations in other Mindanao cities, such as Zamboanga, Iligan, Cotabato, General Santos and Marawi.

Calcent Link offers a 10-day basic workshop, covering U.S. geography and culture, American English, communication skills development, call simulations, stress management and personality improvement.

“The English skills of our trainees were exceptional to begin with and that’s not an area of concern,” said Marquez. “We’re pleased with their persistence in selling.”

“Our locals are proving as good as any other call center agents in the country” says Calcent Link director Andy Orobia. (Gem)

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