Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Call(ing) Centers

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GY, QA, AHT, SME, TL, SLA's....If you read this and not wonder if I'm from outer space talking gibberish then no guessing that you're in the call center industry.

When I landed the job in 2003, the industry was well past its initial stage in the Philippines and have already gained considerable popularity with the largely unemployed and yet skilled populace. Having heard from a friend about this nice job with an even nicer pay and benefits, I decided to try my luck. At that time, I've been without a job for several months already following my resignation from a government agency where I was a casual employee for almost two years with no hope of either a raise in pay or even a regularization. So, when I was immediately hired in one of the most established call centers in the country, offered a salary tripled what I've been receiving from my previous job, regularized after six months, and got all the employment benefits (health, insurance and paid time off) and perks (namely, credit card and loans approval) that went with it, that I could have just kicked myself for not going at it sooner.

For me, it was a dream job that not even the odd working hours can negate. And, I don't believe that I'm entirely alone in my view either. The call center industry came at a time when graduates have become disillusioned with the current employment, or rather, unemployment trend. Millions of graduates turn out every year, each one highly educated and skilled only to become part of the unemployed sector due to lack of available jobs. Many have turned to nursing and caregiving with hopes of going to a foreign land where they can earn more and live better at the high cost of sacrificing family and relationships.

With the advent of call centers, Filipinos who have the basic requirements of good English communication skills, internet knowledge and typing skills are hired by the thousands. No discrimination in regard to age, sex, nor religion. At times, even those who have not finished their college degrees are hired provided they have the above-mentioned qualifications.

There's no wondering why majority of the working populace are now in call centers. Aside from the great demand and high salary, there are lots of opportunities for career growth and advancement in such a fast-growing industry.

Sore throat from talking too much, aching hands and fingers from typing, going a bit deaf from listening to customer's concerns, and tired, red eyes (visine, please) from staring at the computer all through my shift, are more than made up for by my belief in this job. Excuse me from being dramatic, but I believe it has literally saved a lot of Filipinos from taking on punishing, low-paying, and sometimes, degrading jobs. The pressure to go outside of the Philippines to try greener pastures are relieved somewhat.

So, when those in your neighborhood wonder why you go to work at night all dressed up, come home in the early morning, be absent from home even holidays and sundays and you tell them you work in a call center and they turn and give you an understanding nod, saying: Oh, you're a telephone operator. How nice.

Well, it's better to just nod and smile, right?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Santa Rosa

I wonder where time goes? It seems to slip by so fast that one hardly notices it. Hours and minutes blending into days and nights and then to years.

It feels just like yesterday when I had to get up at 6 in the morning to go to my high school classes. Colegio de Santa Rosa was like a second home to me, having gone there for more than a decade, spanning elementary and high school years. My classmates and teachers have become a second family. Well-known and comfortable to be with.

In the quadrangle where we begin the day, we exchange stories just before the bell rings for the flag ceremony to begin. There we would stand in the hot sun clad in our pristine white blouses, long, chequered skirts (which has to be well past the knees to pass the nun's approval), white, ankle-knee socks and pulled-back hair. A picture of the quaint, dainty and demure colegialas.

Well, hardly. Once the final words of the morning prayer has been uttered and we've filed dutifully past the teachers and nuns, that our day really begins. Whispered chatter about boys, fashion and the like fill the halls. Alive and full of exuberance of emerging youth. And though in the voices one finds traces of the child, seen are evidence of the individuals that we would become. There were the usual beauties, the intellectuals, the sporty tomboys, and the active leader types. And, though there existed the usual cliques, we, as a group have never felt divided. Through the success that we reaped and even the misdeeds that earned for us punishments, we stood together.

On our graduation day, we promised to be friends and stay in touch no matter the consequences. It is only now that I realize, ten years after, that those sentiments, though well-meaning, were futile. We grew up, and in the process, grew apart from each other. We'll always look back on those days with a smile, even a wishful longing for that period in our lives when everything seemed so simple and uncomplicated, but the here and now is different.

We grew up to be women, most of us now already with families while some are busy with their careers.

It just feels amazing to realize that the school girls that we were before, studying and roaming about the halls of Santa Rosa, are now mothers and wives and career women. It feels like it was just yesterday when we were whispering to each other how strict Mrs Javier was, how busy Sr. Magda seemed to be, how sharp Mang Gula's memory was, and, wondering why Sister, who's so beautiful and poised, decided to become a nun.

Ten years have passed. How time flies...