Investment drive on for Call Center City
IT-BPM REMAINS A SUNSHINE INDUSTRY IN CEBU
If Cebu’s information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) sectors continue its growth of between seven to ten percent annually, the industry will need more workers.
According to the Cebu IT-BPM Organization (CIB.O), the industry grew by seven to eight percent in 2017. This translates to over 300 IT companies currently located in Cebu and employing around 150,000 employees.
Wilfredo “Jun” Saa Jr., CIB.O managing director, said at this rate, the industry will need between 7,500 to 15,000 more employees this year and in the coming years.
In order to sustain this growth and to maintain Cebu City’s reputation as one of the best cities for outsourcing all over the world, Cebu City Mayor
Tomas Osmeña has been proposing a Call Center City to be developed in the South Road Properties (SRP).
“It is a very good proposal as it will bring the BPM companies, people, and the schools closer to each other with the support of the city. And it will also attract investors to a future expansion site of the city,” Saa said when sought for comment about the proposal.
Osmeña has been advocating for the Call Center City program since last year.
He is proposing the project in a 60-hectare area in the SRP, which will be more than twice as big as the Cebu I.T. Park, currently the center of IT-BPM in the city.
With the call center agent in mind, the mayor wants the Call Center City to be a place where they will work and study at the same time in order to finish their college degrees or take master’s degrees to improve their marketability.
It is also envisioned to have a dormitory for the workers as well as leisure and lifestyle areas that will be bustling at night when most of these employees are off work.
“We’re not taking any shortcuts. We’re going to the basics. We are starting with the call center agents. We want to study the needs of the call centers agents. We want to create an environment for them. That’s crucial for the whole success of the program,” Osmeña said when asked for an update of the proposal.
Aside from doing surveys with agents themselves, he said the city government has also been talking to BPM companies who have expressed interest in the project.
In its latest report, property management and research firm Colliers International Philippines has recommended for developers to invest in the city
Hearing from a talk by the mayor about the project earlier this month, Colliers encouraged developers and tenants to look at business opportunities in the area as early as now, even if concrete details of the project are not yet in place.
“It is being positioned as an integrated BPO (business process outsourcing) community so that should be a positive for Cebu BPO operations in general. Companies will have more choices in terms of quality office space. There will be dorms, training centres, retail outlets so these facilities should enhance living and working conditions within the BPO city,” said Colliers research manager Joey Bondoc.
“Once completed, it should strengthen Cebu’s stature as the largest outsourcing destination outside Metro Manila,” he added.
According to Osmeña, what the city government has been working over the past years is understanding better the needs of call center agents themselves, stressing that what employees need should attract BPO companies and then later on developers of these office spaces, and not the other way around.
He said they have been doing surveys with call center agents and 94 percent have expressed interest in their proposal.
Among their initial findings was that most of these workers want a higher paying job and they can only do so if they finish a college or master’s degree.
“Many of them think it’s hard to take a master’s degree without resigning. That’s why we’re working on this concept: creating a call center city because you can work and you can study without resigning,” he said.
The mayor added that he has also started getting preliminary commitments from investors and call centers. He said he has spoken with companies like Convergys, Xerox, Teleperformance, E-Performax, Accenture, and Qualfon, which have expressed excitement over the proposal.
Higher value outsourcing
True enough, with the challenge posed by continued advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), stakeholders have been pushing to upscale their workers to do higher value services. These include knowledge process outsourcing (KPO).
According to Colliers’ report, Cebu is also the largest and most preferred KPO destination outside of Metro Manila.
A number of KPO companies that provide higher value outsourcing services such as health information management, software engineering, and finance and accounting have opened shops in Metro Cebu, it noted.
Among their reasons for expanding in Cebu is the presence of adequate infrastructure, redundant internet connection, ample supply of skilled college graduates, and a high level of urbanization driven by several townships and public infrastructure projects.
Data from Colliers showed that KPO firms comprised about 20 percent of total transactions or around 20,000 square meters of office space in Cebu in 2017.
“Colliers believes that Cebu colleges and universities must work with local ICT (information and communications technology) councils in calibrating their academic programs to ensure that graduates are equipped with skills required by KPOs,” the report said.
Bondoc said this could also be integrated in the proposed Call Center City project of the city.
Aside from pursuing higher education, educational institutions should also provide programs to scale up the skills of workers so they can handle KPO services or mid-management positions. These could include training on animation, engineering, game development and medical coding among others for KPO companies.
New KPO players in Cebu include the shared service unit of global manufacturer Dover and web design and development firm MoPro. The Global Delivery Center (GDC) of Fujitsu also opened a facility in Cebu and planned to open 400 new positions over the next two years.
Last year, Accenture Philippines said it would hire more employees capable of handling SAP, Java, analytic programming, among others.
Hanoi-headquartered FPT software plans to employ around 1,500 people by end of 2019. The firm said that opening a shop in Cebu is an integral part of FPT’s Southeast Asian expansion strategy.
Other large KPO firms that have established a footprint in Cebu are Synchrony, Cardo Engineering, Google, Catapult International, JP Morgan, Fluor Daniel, and Dash Engineering.
Their presence and expansion is also expected to contribute to faster office space absorption in the next two years.
According to Colliers’ report, the expansion of the Cebu KPO sector primarily hinges on the quality of graduates that its universities produce over the next few years.
It said that the share of KPO employees to Cebu’s outsourcing workforce has grown from a mere 10 percent in 2008 to nearly 30 percent in 2015. / with REPORTER MOREXETTE MARIE B. ERRAM
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