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Call centres on prowl for new recruits

Prasad Sangameshwaran | August 11, 2003 08:23 IST

On a Sunday morning, when Jude Fernandes went to a Navi Mumbai church, it was as if his prayers were finally answered. He chanced upon a small note pasted on the wall. It was from Tracmail, the Mumbai call centre promoted by Tata Consultancy Services veteran Adi Cooper, inviting job applications.

For the twenty-something Fernandes, who was employed in the marketing department of a software firm, the note was a godsend. His company was closing shop and "I was going through a bad phase," he says. Fernandes applied and was selected.

Slide Show
The Call Centre Boom

Novel? Maybe. But Tracmail isn't the only call centre company tapping every recruitment avenue. Apart from churches, the 160,000-strong call centre industry is scouring campuses and non-government organisations to fill the ranks.

Call centres are even buying airtime on FM radio inviting applications and encouraging employee referrals. And if all goes well, social reformers, too, could be espousing their cause. "You have to experiment," says Lulu Khandeshi, head of human resource at Tracmail.

And they are all experimenting. By next month, the Mumbai-based Intelenet Global Services, an equal partnership venture between TCS and Housing Development Finance Corporation, will hire from the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped, an NGO based in Govandi, Mumbai.

Says Manuel D'souza, head, human resources, Intelenet: "Physically handicapped individuals do not get normal jobs in the domestic market. In the call centre industry, where it's not yet important to put a face to the voice, their handicaps are negated."

The company already has eight handicapped recruits in its 1,600-strong agent line-up. It expects physically challenged employees to form 5 per cent of the total workforce soon.

But why is the industry looking at fresh hunting grounds? The answer, quite simply, is the eye-popping 40 per cent attrition rate. Spectramind has a headcount of 7,000 and hires 500 people every month. But its attrition rate is between 25 per cent and 30 per cent. Tracmail's rolls have 850 employees and claims an attrition rate of 18 per cent. It picks up almost 50 recruits a month.

Intelenet, with a 20 per cent attrition rate, hires around 100 people a month. Says Neela Malgonkar, senior manager, sourcing, Wipro Spectramind: "People are casting their webs wider as the pool is getting smaller."

When call centres first mushroomed three years ago, they became the first port of call for employment for many young graduates and undergraduates.

With a paucity of jobs around, call centres with their entry salaries of between Rs 9,000 and Rs 12,000 became a dream destination. So apart from vanilla graduates, computer engineers and hotel management graduates too made a beeline for call centres.

But soon, distances, shifts and long hours, especially night shifts, began taking their toll. Then, for many it was a stop-gap arrangement till they got their fancied job or pursued further studies. Moreover, except for technology-based call centres, call centre jobs were considered to be a dead end by most.

That's why it's tough to find new recruits, call centre human resource heads say. They add that two years ago, for every 100 people interviewed, call centres hired 10 candidates. This is down to two candidates even as demand is on the upswing.

The shortage of people is also forcing companies like Oak Hill Capital Partners and the Financial Technologies Ventures-promoted EXL Service based in Noida, on the capital's outskirts, to move away from the main metros.

It is setting up recruitment offices in Lucknow, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Indore, Bhopal and Pune. Apart from screening and testing candidates, it also plans to market Noida as a contemporary place by showcasing EXL's facilities.

The company is also tackling the distance issue. Deepak Dhawan, vice-president, human resources and training, says that EXL will soon provide its staff with subsidised accommodation, within three to five km of the workplace.

As part of precision targeting, the last three months saw Intelenet hold seminars on what it takes to be a call centre agent. Participants are charged Rs 100 (the premise being that if people pay to attend they are serious about a call centre job). D'souza says Intelenet recruited 125 people in five seminars.

Employee referral is another prize-winner. Tracmail pays Rs 2,000 for a good referral while Spectramind offers between Rs 5,000-8,000 per referral.

Delhi-based Daksh's referral programme, branded Sampark, attracted 20 per cent of the new recruits. The flip side to it, says Aniruddha Limaye, head, human resources, Daksh, is: "Employees also leave because of friends."

Then, a Mumbai-based call centre wants to encourage educated women from the minority community by roping in social reformer Rafiq Zakaria. Zakaria refused to comment on the matter.

All this has meant that the demographic and psychographic profile of a call centre employee is being overhauled. While 18 to 24-year-olds still constitute a major chunk, companies are slowly raising the age bar.

Spectramind even has 40-year-old agents. Tracmail and Intelenet say their average agent is young but may think of recruiting older people in future.

Also, they have become more choosy in their recruitment. Except for technology-based centres, computer engineers are big no no. As Tracmail's Khandeshi puts it, "We do look at undergraduates but overqualified people are out." Now, that's what they call hindsight.


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