Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Mar 15, 2004

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Earn to learn

Rukmani Vishwanath

Do you want a post-graduate degree and yet would not like to burden your parents financially? One of Mumbai's numerous call centres could come to your rescue.

"Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down."

Kobi Yamada, President and CEO of Compendium, Inc.

What do you do, if you are a conscientious young graduate who has limited financial means, but aspires to get a post-graduate degree, without becoming a financial burden on your parents? Well, the growing number of call centres in Mumbai can provide a sort of good `start-up' career option for such youngsters.

For the young hailing from middle-class families, a job in a call centre means a healthy starting salary, enough to fund their academic ambitions. Take the case of 23-year-old Oswald D'Costa. For the past two-and-a-half years, he has been working in a call centre, offering Web-based services. He started work here immediately after his graduation and is now simultaneously pursuing a post-graduate diploma in software technology from the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing — formerly known as the National Centre for Software Technology — in Mumbai.

"I really had no idea whether I would work after graduation. But I was always interested in pursuing post-graduate education that could help me develop a career in the IT industry," he says. But Oswald was extremely conscious of the fact that higher education, particularly in a city like Mumbai, is an extremely expensive proposition and he was loathe to burden his parents financially to fund his post graduate education. "After all, my parents had put in substantial amounts of money to fund my education up to graduation," he reasons.

Typically, call centre jobs have anywhere between eight to nine-hour shifts, day or night, with salaries at the entry level ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. Prospects for growth are attractive, as in many cases, young recruits can soon climb to the level of team leaders, within a year or two, and earn double the amountin a matter of a mere three to four years.

"I have learnt a lot in the past two-and-a-half years. When we started, we were all like college cowboys, everyone was young and the environment was very bubbly. But you get to learn how to handle the business, clients and the like. My goal is to eventually build a career in software development and I am working towards it," says Oswald.

There are many youngsters who actually stick on for the long haul, and thus, this is both an option as well as an opportunity for those with limited financial resources to pursue higher education. Contrary to popular belief that call centre jobs attract quite a few college-undergraduates with the lure of good `pocket-money', in reality most call centres prefer graduates even for entry-level positions.

A senior official with HDFC Bank confirms this. "We prefer hiring graduates and give them the requisite training. As a policy we don't hire undergraduate students because typically, they have classes during our working hours, which are during the day time," he says.

While it is true that many call centres do not hire undergraduate students, a few international set-ups are believed to have relaxed the rules, as most of them are active during the night. This allows students to attend college during the day and work in the evening shifts.

"It depends on how you look at it. How long can you pressurise your parents for money to fund all your needs? It's better that you fend for yourself and become independent after a point so that they can save and enjoy a happy retired life," says Oswald, echoing the philosophy of a growing number of Mumbai youth.

Picture by Shaju John

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