India's Call-Center Jobs Go Begging

By Sudhin Thanawala

Oct. 16, 2007

An Indian employee at a call center provides service support to international customers in the southern city of Bangalore.

Call centers are symbols of India's economic boom. With Anglicized names and feigned Western accents, Indians handle credit card problems and troubleshoot computers, collect debts and conduct customer satisfaction surveys. Over the past decade or so, relatively high salaries in the call center sector have attracted thousands of applicants across the country. But now the boom is going bust because India's college graduates and young job seekers just don't want to be bothered with the business anymore.

Young people say it is no longer worthwhile going through sleepless nights serving customers halfway around the world. They have better job opportunities in other fields. The work is tiring and stressful and offers few career advancement opportunities, says Dr. A. Sankara Reddy, head of Sri Venkateswara College in New Delhi. In response to students' complaints, Reddy said the college a few months ago banned call center recruiters from campus. At least a handful of other local colleges over the last few years have made the same decision.

The complaints come at a time when the Indian information technology sector, which includes companies that run call centers and do other outsourced work like medical transcription and claims processing, is facing a dearth of skilled labor. Many are opening back offices in other developing countries. India faces a potential shortage of 500,000 professional employees in the information technology sector by 2010, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), a trade group.

Although the country produces hundreds of thousands of graduates each year, many lack the skills