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Dead End Job

That’s what people say about call centers. Neelakantan does not agree.

The call center job has attracted the ire of many. There are those who say it is a dead end job. There are others who say that there are cultural ramifications, health hazards, moral hazards and what not. Some are very charitable to it and just say it is a McJob.

The truth is that the call center job is a choice. It is the choice of this era. Ideally, every man in India would be a Shah Rukh Khan and every woman would perhaps be a Preity Zinta. If that’s not possible, every man should be a Sunil Mittal and every woman perhaps a Sucheta Dalal. Or how about Sehwag and Sania? But somewhere between Shah Rukh, Sehwag and Sunil lies reality.

The reality that one has to do a job to earn a living. Make ends meet. So what do you do if nobody comes forward to you with film offers or cricket bat or an industry to run? You take the job that is available. Mind well that I am not talking about someone who has a degree in marketing and has the choice of two jobs – one which pays well but offers no work life balance and the other which is a low paying job with greater responsibility – the standard choice trotted by well heeled MBAs. I am talking about the average Ramu on the street – the graduate (less than that, some other time).

I never tire of saying this, but a job is a job is a job. It is a means to earn a living. There are a chosen few who derive their livelihood from their passion, for many others, it is a means to earn their living. For them their passion is their hobby.

Look at the past to learn about the future. In the 60s and 70s, the trains which brought people to Bombay, Delhi from the South of India were known as “Stenographers Express”. Today we know and read about IT jobs today and the mushrooming of NIIT-like computer training institutes. Then, every gully had a typing institute that taught you speed typing and shorthand. To standardise it the government introduced a typing and shorthand test. (It exists even today). Who in their right frame of mind will argue that a typists job can have any passion? And much more than the call center job, a typists job was a dead end job.

Cut to the 80s, when it was the Gulf job boom. That was about 25 years back. So, many Indians went there. How many are CEOs today? Twenty five years in service is a reasonably long time to rise to a CEO position? Incredibly – none (or three). You can cry hoarse to argue that many of them went there as low level position – I know that nobody went to the “Gulf” as a CEO, but 25 years is a long time. Truth is that the Gulf jobs were all about labour arbitrage and zero progress. You joined as an accounts clerk you died as one. Dead end job anyone?

The ‘90s saw the bodyshopper job. The Gulf job replaced by the contractor (consultants – if you wanted to elevate your position) in the American firm. Many of these programmers have seen one (or two or three) applications in their entire job profile. (Indian programmers of IT companies by contrast know “all there is to know” because they work in multiple projects across a year or so. ) Apart from the handful who graduated big time to company founders (and many of them were US educated) during the dot com boom, the rest of minion are just sitting there capitalizing on labour arbitrage and cultivating an accent (something you did not get in the gulf). Isn’t this a dead end job too?

Take any other job. Clerk? Salesman? Accounts officer? Receptionist? Office boy? Challenging or dead end? Jobs can be dead end, as long as they help the employee earn his living and live comfortably. It is better to be a successful television artist earning money than it is to stand in front of a big banner film company office and wait until you are “discovered”. Likewise, if I cannot become Sachin, Sunil or Shahrukh, I need a job to survive. Once my bread and butter is taken care of, I will look to do something else. Like blog, perhaps.

The call center job is way way better than any of the above, because except for the typists, the other job booms sucked out qualified engineers (for the most part) out of the country. The call center takes the jobs to graduates. Those who are unemployed and would have seen themselves at the end of a line in an “employment exchange”. Many of these call center execs work in swank offices, are paid well, are trained in a whole host of things, get to travel abroad, gain multicultural experience (either through travel or by interacting with visitors).

The job of the ‘00s is the call center job. It will soon pass and maybe in the next few years we will see another boom in a work of a different sort. Then we will all come together and rant about how the “future job” is a dead end job.

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