A Career after BPO
In the 90s, advances in technology and communication send IT and services outsourcing opportunities soaring to India. Possessed of a large English speaking, educated, low cost workforce, BPO grew at a tremendous rate. In the early 2000s, the sector grew at 40 to 50% per year, and eventually came to employ more than a million workers. The contact center business (more commonly called the call center business) was especially promising, because its major requirements were good English and the ability to communicate with relative fluency.
Indian BPO: Failing market share and diminishing opportunities
However, in the last five years, India has lost 10% market share of the world’s BPO industry to other countries, and the Philippines, Malaysia, China, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Columbia, Poland, and Ireland are proving to be attractive locations for BPO—specifically for voice contracts. Given that the India BPO industry derives 70% of its revenue from contact centers (the remaining is spread across data entry at 20% and IT-related work at 10%), this is a tremendous concern for BPO companies.
And, as recent employment trends have demonstrated, BPO companies are acting on their concerns. Firstsource Solution, which is adding 500 employees to its center at Cebu, in the Philippines, is expecting to reduce its headcount in India by the same amount. Between 800 and 900 people were released by the same company in the previous quarter.
Automation: More dangerous than the competition
In addition to the risk to the Indian BPO industry from countries that are swiftly establishing themselves in the same market, is software automation.
A company in Silicon Valley called InsideView offered its customers lead generation, qualification, and opportunity identification research through technology and SaaS (software as a service). In November 2007, InsideView acquired TrueAdvantage, which had 2500 customers and offered the same service—but manually, through a 150-member team in India. All 2500 customers were migrated to InsideView’s technology offering and the 150-member team was laid off.
More recent research by KPMG shows that, while even 10% of BPO initiatives are not effective at cutting costs, automation software can free up resources and allow the BPO industry to deliver above and beyond expectations.
What impact will automation have on the industry itself?
- Fewer people will be required to manage a given volume of transactions, which equates to significant reductions in staff
- Customer will experience innovations in process quality, increased reliability, reduced error rates, and faster processing times—which means that service providers are much more likely to be interested in automation than people acquisition and development
The success of a BPO, therefore, is unlikely to hinge on its people. Companies are, instead, much more likely to compete based through the number of processes they can automate, greater throughput and volumes through software.
Where, then, does this leave the job market?
High attrition: BPO workers seeking opportunities elsewhere
The attrition rate in the BPO industry is remarkably high—to the tune of 40 to 50%. Companies are finding it difficult to hold on to employees—many BPO employees are dissatisfied with the lack of career growth opportunities, low compensation, and too-few perks, bonuses and benefits.
The chance to scale the corporate ladder in a BPO industry is bleak. Added to that is the lack of creativity in the job and the high degree of monotony involved in day-to-day tasks. The working hours, designed against the natural physical rhythm of the body, take a physical toll on workers even as the impact of the work itself is on an employee’s creativity and energy.
Skilled employees are opting out of BPO jobs, seeking better, higher-paying, more rewarding opportunities elsewhere. With employees leaving the industry in droves, the question that everyone still employed in or just out of a BPO is asking themselves is: what next?
A career after BPO: What can you do next?
The biggest challenge that the limited acquired experience of a BPO presents is IT companies prefer candidates with experience, making competition fierce when battling against candidates already in the IT industry.
Regrettably, for an ex-BPO employee, the options are limited. You can:
- Join an IT organization with a service desk or ITO services, since the experience relates directly to BPO
- Join a smaller organization, in which you can showcase your skills, and in which prior experience (or the lack thereof) will be less of a problem
- Get a certification or a skill upgrade
Of these three, naturally, the third is the most viable—and the one that offers the most promise.
If you need to change your career and find a stable job outside of the BPO industry, the first task is upskilling. Having the right certifications and trainings listed on your CV can help you stand out of the crowd. One such certification is for Technical Writing.
Technical Writing: Even BPO experience counts
Unlike most industries, BPO experience is actually relevant to the technical writing industry.
In an industry that prides itself on communication, both written and oral, BPO experience with dealing with customers and discussing potentially technically complex tasks and processes over the phone is a significant value-add. Given that technical writing is primarily about the documentation of products and processes, the experience that a BPO executive has with processes is yet another advantage. Also, since all BPO processes operate off of intricately designed and heavily detailed knowledge bases, there will already be a level of familiarity with key documents that technical writers typically work on.
Employment opportunities for technical writers are expected to grow by 17% by 2020. Naukri.com lists over 27,000 jobs as of today for technical writers and variations of the same profession, for a number of leading IT industries. Companies that hire technical writers include Accenture, Cisco, Wipro, NetApp, GE, Dell, HCL, Siemens, ANZ, Mphasis, and Cognizant.
A technical writer’s average salary is close to 4 lakhs p.a., which is markedly higher than the starting salary in the BPO industry, which is a mere 1.8 lakhs p.a. An added advantage is the broad range of options for either freelancing as a technical writer or working with any of the companies listed above.
Technical writing offers a clearly defined career path as well, with clear growth definitions and objectives. This growth applies across industries, since companies across the spectrum of IT, BFSI, Telecom, and more, all need technical writers for their organizations. Some common technical writer designations are: Content Analyst, Technical Author, Technical Editor, Documentation Lead, Documentation Manager, and Knowledge Architect.
The job offers tremendous variety as well, since technical writers often deal with engineering, hardware, software, medical, and scientific subjects—and need to interact with engineers, developers, scientists, doctors, and researchers to do their job effectively. As a result, technical writers often acquire specialized knowledge in a particular domain, rising to expert levels during their careers.
Finally, with a number of perks associated with the field, including work from home options, flexible timings with certain companies, technical writing is a field with a tremendous amount of promise.
So, if you’re looking for a long, rewarding stable career, that will take your further than the BPO industry ever could, take a look at technical writing—you’re unlikely to be disappointed.