The pros and cons of call center jobs

Opinion.

It seems like every day for the past year I have found myself in a conversation with a friend or acquaintance who wants to apply for a job in a call center.

Since a conversation usually requires both parties to voice an opinion, I usually repeated some common public view on the subject without really thinking much about it. But, as it is usually the case with such matters, it wasn’t until a close friend of mine pursued one of these jobs that I started to really learn about this industry by asking the appropriate questions of people who worked there.

Call centers—or business process outsourcing (BPO)—first came to Nicaragua around 2008, when SITEL, the biggest company working in this country’s costumer service business, opened its doors and offered attractive job opportunities for Nicaraguans with a certain required skill set.

“We don’t necessarily expect all of our employees are going to want to spend the next 20 years in the call center industry, but you will find that the skill that you learn in this industry will help you in your professional careers no matter where you go in the future, because you are using computer skills, customer service skills and problem-solving skills,” said Val Vandergrifth, country manager of SITEL, in a TV news report that aired on Channel 8 last year.

 While all of this is true, the obvious skill set required to work on this industry is fluency in English. So how big is the employable workforce for Nicaragua’s call center industry?

Every year there are hundreds of university graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of expertise, so they turn to the call centers to gain some work experience and earn a paycheck to support themselves and their families on what is considered a good salary by Nicaraguan standards.

The problem is, as Federico Qadea of Accedo Technologies explains, “The personnel we employ here consists in a large part of high school graduates.”

My generation is almost three years out of high school, so we were first in line to reap the benefits of this new opportunity. And indeed, many have. With that experience, many of my friends can now testify to the perils and benefits of a call center job, and they can compare expectations with reality.

The truth is, there is a great variety of reasons why high school graduates decide to take a call center job—everything from rebellion and independence, to the more selfless motive of supporting their family. Five high school classmates and friends of mine have worked at call centers in the past year, and all of them have quit.

“At first it’s really fun, the first two months are the best,” say my friend, Silvia Pastora, who is now a business student at UAM. “But if you want to work there and pursue your career competitively at the same time, that is a big mistake in my opinion. If you work full time, after a certain point, you’ll feel like you’re drowning—it creates too much pressure.”

Ana, another ex-employee, told me she had to take fewer university classes because the call center work scheduling is not flexible. Ultimately she quit because of a mandated change of schedule to her working hours; she appealed because her work schedule conflicted with her class hours, but her bosses were unwilling to budge and so she quit.

When asked about the call center culture, my friends emphasize that it’s really easy money if you don’t have homework or anything else that conflicts with your work schedule. But there is also a lot of bias when it comes to promotions; it is very hard to climb up the company ladder without connections, which makes it difficult for most people to view the phone-jockeying as anything more than a temporary job.

“Most of the other workers are adults who are supporting their families. While most of the people are nice, it is very, very competitive—I mean a lot of them would rat you out if you avoid even one call, but I guess that’s how it is,” says my friend Alejandra.

An architecture student who came into the job with the mindset of using it as a stepping stone to fulfill her career goals, Alejandra is on the other end of the spectrum. She needed a good, very expensive computer for her class work and future career, and while she agreed that the work was tiring and hard, it did give her an opportunity to earn cash that was not available to students her age in the past.

Call centers represent a great chance for Nicaraguans, and it has no doubt improved the quality of life of families around the capital. But, as I have learned from my friends, it is not a commitment to be taken lightly. In some instances, it can end up crippling our future opportunities if it causes us to neglect our career goals or higher learning.

My advice to my cohorts is to always examine your motives and your objectives when applying for a call center job. Decide if you are capable of shouldering the burden of such work and juggling it with your other career goals.

Juan Cuadra, 19, is an Industrial Engineer student and aspiring writer. He graduated from Saint Teresa’s Academy. This is his second published article in Nicaragua Dispatch.

  • http://www.polylabel.com Raffles

    This sounds exactly like the kind of comment you’d here from Canada, USA or elsewhere from a rather coddled and expensively educated young person.

    The expectation that an employer is going to ‘provide’ for you instead of insisting you do a sometimes tough job well, isn’t unusual. Very annoying for the employer and the sooner the employee changes his/her attitude the better off both will be.

    My guess is the call center loves and provides for those dedicated employees who frown on and ‘rat out’ those not pulling their weight.

  • yoho

    Very nice article. Great job. Seems like you made a wide research about that topic.
    By the way, there’s only one Saint Teresa’s Academy. Colegio Teresiano is not even an academy, and the bilingual school just train you for being a secretary.
    http://www.stteresasacademy.org/home.aspx

    • Marie

      An academy is just a private high school. You can look it up online if you so wish. Also the name the school uses in the USA and for English speaking people IS Saint Teresa’s Academy. Plus, I wouldn’t say that you are trained to be a secretary. You do get some classes that could help you in that aspect, but it’s still a high school. So you actually get double trained.

  • fucc

    I must say it was a good article on call center and i must agree that for some its just a stepping stone and a quick fix for some people that just wanna get some quick cash, as career wise i dont think nobody want sto spend 10 years as a CSR or Supervisor

  • epad0701

    Good article. I find it to be balanced. Nevertheless I cannot help feeling disappointed at the reasons given by some of the interviewed as to why a job in a call center did not meet their expectations. It seems that the majority of the subjects went into these jobs thinking that it will provide them with balanced work-study environment. I find it hard to believe that anyone will take a job in customer service without knowing that the customer’s convenience is foremost and that the working hours would reflect that reality. Also, it stroke me as unrealistic to think, like one of the subjects did, that there would minimal job-related pressure which is inherent of any type of work.

    The writer does a good job listing and defending the pros and cons. I think though that there is a bias common to all the interviewed subjects. They seem to have come from middle to upper middle class families. Their goals are certainly not to make a career in a call center and I think that is why they sound dismissive of the benefits.

    In the case of your average Nicaraguan, working in a call center can very well be a life-altering move . It is not easy and it will require sacrifice but it is not impossible. I live in the United States and here it is not unheard of to work full time and attend College at the same time. The pay at a call center, while not up to Western standards, can propel the employee into Nicaragua’s minuscule middle class. It can provide, as it did to one of the interviewed subjects, with the means to purchase goods otherwise beyond their reach. In fact it may very well represent their entry into conspicuous consumption.

    Say what you will about the “evils’ of consumption but I have yet to find anyone who is completely divorced from its benefits.

  • http://znicaragua.com Zeitgeist Nicaragua

    One most wonder, how are the call center impacting the social agenda. What are going to be people aspirations. Why aren’t they any good English teachers in public school? and were is all that money going to? More Money means that they will be more people wanting you to spend that money. finding ways to let you know you need a touchscreen phone, and a new one 6 months from now? a new car, a concert ticket, to busy to understand what happen on the world, just work, work work work, don’t pay attention to the world, do not live, work and pay bills…… Insanity

  • mike

    You won’t earn enough from most part-time jobs in the US to pay for your books as an undergraduate at a state university. It’s routine to graduate with $30,000 or more of student loans for tuition and fees. By themselves, these loans have damaged the credit histories of hundreds of thousands of graduates in the past four recession-plagued years. Indoor work and no heavy lifting in a call center doesn’t sound so bad to me.

  • quicken

    At mike the problem w/ the call center in NIcargua it pay very poor about 1.20 hour rather be lifting heavy stuff in the US getting a better pay check

  • robert

    The only pros for working in the call center are the money. Everybody is their for that reason only. Too many Cons to list but here the big ones:

    *Corporate and Political atmosphere-You won’t go further up if you don’t have any friends (i.e. your boss doesn’t like you or your numbers) in the business. I’ve had bosses that come in late are unprofessionable, and they don’t face any consequences as with any corporate job, the rules don’t apply to the senior management.

    *No support system-They don’t care about any of your problems or if the call went bad because of the clients fault even the bad calls that are the clients fault get blamed on you. In other words, the support system in place pretty much sucks. It’s not surprising that many people quit or get fired.

    *Unflexible schedule-Already highlighted, and management doesn’t care about it unless you are posting great numbers.