CEBU CITY—At 100,000 employees, Cebu’s Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry is the largest outside Metro Manila.
And, says Wilfredo Saa Jr., the industry also indirectly feeds another 250,000 people—including taxi drivers, store clerks, spa workers and food attendants that serve restaurants BPO workers visit.
The industry now consists of 200 companies, says Saa, the managing director of the Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology (CEDFIT). He quotes Philippine Export Processing Zone records: About 60 percent of the 100, 000 workers are Cebuanos; 40 percent come from other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao and even from Manila.
They serve major markets in the United States, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
The BPO industry in Cebu started in the 1990s as an alternative to Cebu’s dwindling manufacturing prospects. “Joel Mari Yu of the Cebu Investment Promotion Center saw this happening so they decided to do a roadshow in Manila to invite the growing BPOs in Manila to consider Cebu as a backup site,” Saa says.
Sykes came to Cebu in 2003 and started operations in a warehouse in Barangay Subangdaku in Mandaue City with only 17 employees. It has since grown to 3, 000 employees in 12 years.
While Cebu’s first BPO started operations in Mandaue City, most locators that followed opted to stay in Cebu City itself, particularly at the Asia Town IT Park in Barangay Lahug.
In recent years, BPOs have started to also occupy the Cebu Business Park in the neighboring barangay of Luz where a mall and more commercial spaces are located.
Locators continue to come to Cebu, Saa says, because “the city offers good talent, very trainable and [with] excellent command of the English language even better than NCR”—the National Capital Region. “Our talents also have good customer service skills and excellent teamwork. A site in Cebu can always outperform a counterpart site in Manila according to industry insiders,” he adds.
Saa’s CEDFIT is recognized as the first ICT Council of the Philippines and the first successful academe-industry support group collaboration model in the country.
Its board of trustees is chaired by Francis Monera, president of Cebu Holdings Inc. and the Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corporation (CPVDC) that developed the Asia Town IT Park. Other board officials include Christophe Calligaro, the president and CEO of Lexmark, as well as deans of different colleges and universities in Cebu City.
Looking ahead, Saa says the 300-hectare South Road Properties (SRP) in the southern part of Cebu City and the cities of Mandaue and Lapu Lapu could also be potential destinations for locators.
All that’s needed is for the two neighboring local governments to also have IT Parks, PEZA-registered buildings, a reliable power supply and telco services.
Even with the local industry’s continued growth, the demand for BPO workers remains great because Information Technology/Business Process Management (IT/BPM), Saa says, is “an evolving industry and it continues to focus on higher value services.”
“We don’t intend to stay on the entry-level jobs so that the requirement continues to be challenging and will hopefully engage our talents for a longer term. Career growth is aplenty in the industry and you are only limited by your ability [to] grow fast into the position as this is one of the fastest growing industries that our country has ever had. The growth projection continues to be double-digit figures in the next five years.”
The academe and the industry are working together to make sure that there will be enough talent. TESDA initiates training for work scholarship programs while CEDFIT encourages strong industry-academe linkages. CEDFIT also partnered with international organizations such as EMC Academic Alliance Program to offer free training to university teachers on subjects like cloud infra services, big data analytics and information storage and management.
Lately, EMC AAP has also started to offer free online certification to trainees right after training.
CEDFIT for its part offers the Phil IT GCE, an entry level certification for fresh IT graduates.
Saa says work that allows one to attend to the needs of “demanding customers and [receive high] compensation is the best available [option] for fresh graduates and even more experienced agents, software engineers and developers.”
“It is like working abroad and staying with your loved ones.”