We know that Bulgaria is THE land for outsourcing in Europe. Especially when it comes to contact centers, customer care centers, call centers, you name it. So, I have been wondering what was the long term impact of having these companies coming to Bulgaria.
I believe that there are some pros and cons and that everything is not as pink as sometimes one would like to make us believe. One of the positive point of having many call centers in Bulgaria is that they bring with them methods and processes which will definitely have a positive impact on future local managers. But, in my opinion, one of the most negative impact is that the call centers are artificially “caping” the potential of the Bulgarian economy. Let’s look at it closely.
True, call centers are creating jobs and paying their employees a bit better than most of domestic companies. According to the language one speaks, he/she can expect a salary going from 800 euros to 2 000 euros gross per month. However, let’s be honest, usually, salaries are closer to 800 euros rather than 2 000 euros… But, still, 800 euros is not a “bad” salary when we compare it with the average salary and the cost of life. So, yes, call centers are creating many jobs and they pay decent salaries.
But, in my opinion, the problem is that, first, working in a call center is usually not highly exciting. I would even say that for 80% of the workforce, the job is a bit boring. Second, the opportunities of growth are limited. Of course, it is always possible to find the example of someone who started 8 years ago as a customer care agent and who is now managing a team of 200 people. Fortunately, there are such examples and this is good because in some cases, the people who made their way up in the industry did not go to college. They have been trained in-house by the so-called call centers. So, the B.P.O industry gave them a chance to prove themselves and rewarded the best of them. This is one of the good side of call centers: you can enter at the most basic position with no education and, with perseverance and hard work, if you are talented, make your way up. But, these “success stories” are rare and what was possible 10 years ago when this industry started to boom in Bulgaria, is not necessarily possible today.
People also need to understand that like for any other industry, technology is catching up and it would be a big mistake to plan to make a career in a B.P.O company as at one point, agents will be replaced by machines. So, if the industry needs less agents, it will then also need less team leaders, team managers, supervisors, quality analysts, trainers, subject matter experts, recruiters etc. If you have doubts about it, if you speak French, I suggest you to go in Youtube and watch some videos about Dr. Laurent Alexandre, a French scientist, and also an entrepreneur, who founded two decades ago, one of the most popular french site for medical advices, Doctissimo . The guy is amazing and his vision of the future seems closer to the real life rather than science fiction. I had the chance to meet him once, by chance, in Lyon railway station, and to discuss with him while waiting for our TGV, and I must admit that the guy is impressive.
In Bulgaria, most people working in a call centers are over qualified…
If you are looking at the “type” of people working in these contact centers in Bulgaria and you compare them with the people working is such customer care centers in Western Europe for example, you will quickly notice that 70% of the employees have, at least, a bachelor degree. Often, a master degree, sometimes, even a PhD. In France, according to the words of the President and CEO of one of the biggest BPO company in Eastern Europe, 70% of the employees working in a call center did not go to college. So, is it not a shame for the Bulgarian economy to have so many qualified people working in positions in which they cannot deploy their potential? Don’t you think that allowing highly educated people to work in a position which should not require more than a high school degree, is kind of holding the Bulgarian economy to boom? Yes, I know, sometimes, you do not have a choice and if the people working in call centers are doing it, this is mainly because they did not find a decent job elsewhere and they need to make money to pay the bills.
On the other side, call centers are very often allowing students to work while they are at the university and to pay the bills. So, thanks to them, many young Bulgarians can afford to go to college, gain some experience and a salary in large international companies in which they will learn processes and get familiar with key performance indicators.
But, what is the macroeconomics consequence when it comes to “non-students”? As a matter of fact, paying highly qualified people better than the average salary to ask them do a job which does not really allow them to create value for the country is kind of artificially “caping” the potential of the Bulgarian economy. If these people did not work in a call center, they would need to find other solutions to make money and this might be when some great innovations would come out. This is rarely when people are in their “comfort” zone that they are the most innovative. Moreover, after a work day (or night) in this new generation of factory as I like to call them, if you want to develop a project on the side, you just feel like having fun or having a rest rather than starting a second day of work after your “day job”.
So, to me, allowing people to work in “non-exciting” jobs, for which they are over qualified is preventing the creation of real value for the Bulgarian economy.
Keeping salaries artificially high to compare with the real value creation does not serve the Bulgarian economy on the long run!
I will just finish my point with one image. Once, I was watching an interview of Charles Gave, a french businessman who is very successful in private equity, in which he was explaining that maintaining interest rates artificially low like it is the case since 2008, is generating a huge opportunity cost for value creation. Actually, if interest rates were not kept artificially low, the cost of debt would be higher for companies and so, their cost of capital would also be higher. For many of them, the cost of capital would be higher than the value they create and obviously, they would go bankrupt because they would destroy value instead of creating it. Then, the human resources and the capital would be reallocated to other companies, with positive net present value and the all economy would be better off. So, by keeping interest rates artificially low, central banks allow non-value creative firms to survive and destroy both human resources talent and capital. To me, this is exactly the same with the workforce in call centers. When a country let companies to pay over qualified people just a bit above market price in order for them to swallow the workforce, it does not contribute to set up an environment conductive to high value creation and innovation. If call centers jobs were paid at their real market value (in term of value creation), current salaries would probably be divided by two and most of the over qualified people working in this industry would prefer to either launch their own business or find another job. The only reason why some people with a lot of talent prefer to work as customer care agents rather than in their field of expertise is because most of the jobs in their field of expertise pay less than these B.P.O jobs.
Call centers should not be kicked out of Bulgaria but with their HR policies, they are generating a huge cost of opportunity for the Bulgarian economy.
So, should we kick call centers out of Bulgaria. No. We are in a free market economy. Of course, this was a provocative title in order to raise a flag, but, I believe that this industry, with its HR policies, has a more negative than positive impact on the Bulgarian economy. As I wrote, yes, call centers create jobs, pay decent salaries and allows people who did not go to college to make a career where other industries would not have allowed them to do it. In addition, it contributes to retain in Bulgaria part of the qualified workforce who would prefer to fly away from the country rather than working for 600 BGN per month in a Bulgarian company. So, indirectly, these call centers contribute to bring cash which will be spent in Bulgaria and contribute to increase the level of life. But, on the other side, contact centers are swallowing from the labor market a huge part of people who could create much more value for the country if they were doing something else.
Bulgaria is not a “cheap” country, people are educated, clever, talented, and they deserve better than low skilled jobs!
To conclude, and this could be the object of another analysis, I would just like to highlight the fact that Bulgaria deserves better than companies offering low skilled jobs because they consider that labor force is qualified and “cheap”. Always highlighting , like I very often see in official presentations, that labor force is cheap does not serve Bulgarians on the long term. It just attracts companies willing to take advantage of it. Bulgaria is not “cheap”. The word “cheap” has a very negative connotation in the mind of people and if Bulgaria wants to take the place it deserves on the international scene it must not be seen as “cheap”. I prefer to speak about higher purchasing power than low cost of life for example. It’s, like always, mainly a matter of communication…
Bulgarians are very well educated, very clever people, and they deserve to be able to deploy all their potential for the good of their nation.
Keep in mind that this is just my opinion. I know many of the readers will be shocked but, hey, we ‘re not all thinking the same way, fortunately.
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