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Call centers face brave new world of automation
By Victor V. Saulon
THE PHILIPPINE contact center sector will add at least 73,000 new jobs annually until 2020 when total employment is expected to reach 1.2 million and work opportunities have shifted towards more complex jobs, officials of an industry group said.
“Today as we speak, thousands of jobs are being transformed through automation,” said Benedict C. Hernandez, chairman of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), in a press conference at the Makati Shangri-La hotel on Wednesday.
He was citing a study conducted for the sector covering the previous year, when the number of contact center jobs totaled 751,000, until 2022.
“Parts of what people used to do manually are now being done by machines and, when you do that, the jobs become different,” he said.
Mr. Hernandez, who also heads Accenture’s local operations, categorized into three the type of tasks being done by the sector’s workforce: simple, mid-complex and highly complex jobs.
In 2016, simple tasks accounted for 47% of contact center work, but its share will shrink to 27% by 2022, largely because of automation and improved efficiency.
He said there would still be growth year-on-year for simple tasks, but the rate of growth will be outstripped by the rate of automation.
This means jobs in the mid- to highly complex tasks will grow from 53% of the industry total last year to 73% by 2022.
“For us fortunately, the global market will continue to grow,” Mr. Hernandez said.
The Philippine industry’s clientele is also changing, from being almost exclusively for the United States to, increasingly, Europe and Asia Pacific, he added.
Australia has largely fueled growth, which with a share of 15% second only to the United States, whose 72% has been shrinking over the years, he said.
In terms of revenues, CCAP President Jojo J. Ulingan said growth would remain at a high single-digit pace. “We predict about eight percent annual growth until 2022, that takes our revenues from $12.8 billion last year to $20.4 billion in 2022,” he said.
The contact center sector forms the biggest part of the broader information technology-business process management (IT-BPM) industry, which includes companies in IT, healthcare and creative services where animation and games belong.
CCAP is the biggest contact center group in the country, accounting for about 80% of the total employment in the sector. Its membership of about 100-plus companies include the big employers as well as a number of mid-sized and smaller firms.
“A lot of the questions that we’re starting to get today is really the impact of technology on our industry. And in particular, people, the public, whether in the Philippines or over the world, they are fascinated by this discussion on artificial intelligence,” Mr. Hernandez said.
“And the usual question we get… is what happens to our industry. Are you gonna be actually disrupted? In what ways are you gonna be disrupted today?” he said.
He said the disruption offers an opportunity for the local sector to move up the value chain. He said the country needs to “over-invest in human capability.”
Mr. Uligan said the sector would continue to work closely with the government and the academe to facilitate “upskilling and new learning for the talent pool in order for them to adapt to these new technologies.”
CCAP hosted yesterday’s briefing in preparation for a bigger event in October called “Contact Islands 2017,” which will feature local and global contact center operators, while offering research to help attendees understand industry trends better.
The local IT-BPM industry is expected to be the country’s largest source of dollar income this year, CCAP said, citing figures from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Industry sales have outpaced growth of remittances from Filipinos overseas that have long been the country’s biggest source of dollars.
“From 525,000 employees in 2010 and $8.9 billion in revenue to an expected 1.3 million jobs and over $25 billion in revenue for 2016, it is, to date, the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry in the Philippines,” the association said in a press release distributed during yesterday’s event.