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English proficiency make BPO industry in Baguio vibrant
by Harley Palangchao

Researchers and international journalists covering the hinterlands of the Cordilleras know it is easy to get information even from old folks because many Cordillerans, unlike in other parts of the country, speak their English well. 

Closer to home, Baguio, the seat of economic power in the region, has been profiting from Cordillerans’ good command of the English language for over half a decade now following the establishment of the first business process outsourcing (BPO) in this mountain resort. 

No less than Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who hails from the boundary of Quirino and Mountain Province, speaks well both in English and in Iloko, better than he does in Filipino. He told reporters recently that the entry of more BPOs in the city has greatly contributed to the city’s coffers. 

BPOs’ contributions to local economy and employment prompted the city government to pass policies friendly to investors of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). 

Of late, the city mayor signed Administrative Order 70 s. 2011 creating the ICT Council, which serves as chairman, along with the head of the Philippine Long Distance Company. 

“Having an ICT Council would immediately address the concerns of the ICT sector especially that Baguio is a preferred location for BPOs and to improve services that would result in better opportunities for Baguio residents,” the mayor said.

From a prospect to BPO hub

Baguio’s temperate climate and English proficiency account for its being in the list of the Top 10 BPO Next Wave Cities. The city stands alone among key cities from the Northern Luzon area, with Dagupan City catching up. 

The pro-investment policies could have been the turning point for BPO investors to consider expanding in the city, which was once just a mere prospect, to being one of the “Next Wave Cities” for BPOs in 2010. 

It’s not surprising that Baguio, in a span of less than a decade, is now listed in the elite Next Wave Cities or the top 10 best outsourcing locations in the entire archipelago. BPOs here have contributed to the industry’s total earnings of US$9 billion, a feat attained because of the region’s proficiency in speaking and writing in English. 

According to the Next Wave Cities score card, Baguio passed the requirements like the availability of graduates and workers who can be employed as agents. 

A recent report by the Philippine News Agency revealed that other factors affecting the city’s ranking are cost, business environment, and infrastructure.

Cities are particularly scored for the quality of their roads, access to international and domestic flights, presence of providers of fiber optic networks, reliability of power supply, availability of property sites, cost of labor and office space, vulnerability to natural disturbances, and peace and order situation, among other criteria. 

Except for commercial flights, Baguio passed all major requirements. Efforts are being undertaken both by the city government and its partners from the private sector to invite companies to open commercial flights here. 

Human Resource and Senior Manager Ron D. Hecita of Aegis Baguio said that it would greatly help the BPOs and also the city to finally have a fully functional and operational airport. 

“This would help in encouraging foreign companies to outsource their needs to the BPOs already here in Baguio,” Hecita said. 

Since 2007, the BPO industry marked an improvement in the employment rate among graduates from higher learning institutions in Baguio and the rest of the Cordilleras as call center firms hire on the spot qualified applicants during job fairs in the rural areas of the region. 

SITEL Senior Vice President Mike Oliver Dela Peña, who was in Baguio in April, said the company has set a blueprint for expansion in Baguio since the firm opened its doors in 2007.  

SITEL today is the biggest employer in the city with more than 3,000 employees, mostly call center agents. SITEL is also expanding its operations to nearby San Fernando, La Union which will further boost the employment rate.  

Aegis Peoples Support, a US$20 billion conglomerate wholly owned by the Essar Group, has over 750 employees in Baguio. With over 10 years of excellent service in the country, it has contributed to the professional growth of 12,000 workers in its six best-in-class facilities in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Baguio.

Family-oriented, good paying job

While there are a lot more opportunities in Manila than in Baguio, Hecita said the presence of BPO centers here, like Aegis makes an outsourcing profession a family-oriented job because people do not have to go far away from their families to get good paying jobs. 

Hecita said their company is one of the few BPO firms that give premium to those with contact center experience. They also give more than the government-mandated night differential rate.

There’s more. 

Employees are also entitled to a monthly rice allowance, a special shift allowance, and a life insurance plan once they gain regular status. 

“We believe in training people and giving opportunities for career growth,” Hecita said. 

The Aegis Baguio officer, meanwhile, shares the same view that Baguio may soon be the BPO capital in the near future because of an inherent huge talent pool shaped by history. 

“The Americans have made a base here at one point and their influence is still very much felt today. The city also offers a highly conducive and relaxing environment for call centers that can cancel out the usual stresses encountered when one is working for a call center,” he added. 

Anytime soon, Convergy’s, the newest locator in the city located inside the Camp John Hay Special Economic Zone, also takes pride in its ability to give job opportunities with decent salaries to thousands of Baguio residents, mostly fresh graduates.

In April last year, the Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) announced the opening of its first BPO campus in Baguio. This promised thousands of more qualified job applicants once the BPO offices, retail establishments, and support maintenance within CJH are fully operational.

ALI decided to infuse investments in Baguio following the signing of a contract with Camp John Hay Dev’t. Corp. (CJHDevCo) in 2008 after the Business Processing Association of the Philippines made Baguio a part of its Top 10 Next Wave Cities.

In a statement released during the groundbreaking ceremony, ALI said: “Potential (BPO) locators can take advantage of Baguio’s rich talent pool with over 14 colleges and universities produ-cing about 22,000 graduates per year.”

Other BPO players 

The regional Department of Labor and Employment, which recognizes the role of the BPO industry in nation building released recently the list of other BPO locators registered with the Philippine Export Processing Zone (PEZA).

Other major BPO players that also employ hundreds of thousands in the city are IHG, SC Reservation (Phils) Inc.; Noble Trends Unlimited, Inc.; Omed Corporation and WW Outsourcing International Services, Inc.

The City Permits and Licensing Division also has seven outsourcing centers on record, namely GGP Contract Solution; Syner G. Outsourcing Inc.; Dream Power Contract Solution; Manila Oslo Renewable Ent. Inc.; Anomalist Labs; GVA Consultancy Manpower and General Service; Kafagway Telecommunications; and Jlink Contract Solution.

A good command of English is an asset in the BPO as can be seen in the fact that many employed in call centers are not necessarily degree holders but can speak English well. The basic qualification remains to be just being of legal age. 

Vibrant industry

The BPO industry’s contribution to city and regional economy was also acknowledged by the National Statistical Coordination Board when its official reported in May that the industry contributes to the steady growth of the Service Sector of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GRDP). 

The NSCB reported BPOs are included in the private services under the Service Sector. 

Based on the 2009 GRDP released by NSCB in August 2010, the service sector contributed 25.4 percent of the region’s economy. Out of the P8.013 billion earned by the region’s service sector, P2.922 billion came from the private services. 

The vibrancy of the country’s BPO industry is reflected in the fact that the Philippines beat India as a world leader in BPO. 
Without a doubt, English proficiency among Filipinos is the country’s biggest advantage in outclassing India after several years of challenging it in the global ranking. 

It is projected that with the growth of the country’s BPO industry, it will bring US$25 billion revenues in 2016. And without a doubt Baguio will be one of the perfect choices for BPO expansion in the coming years.

BLISTT as expansion areas

The proximity of Benguet’s outlying towns to Baguio with vast tracts of land like La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay offers potential expansion sites for BPO companies in the near future. 

As concerned quarters lobbied in the past, it’s time Baguio reciprocates also the contributions of Benguet by convincing investors to set the blueprint for BPO industry in the country’s Salad Bowl capital. 

All these opportunities exist, simply because the region is comfortable with the English language.

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