Why do call centers attract Egyptian youth?

Call centers are a good start for students and fresh graduates to gain experience

  
Woman in call center on phone. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Woman in call center on phone. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Reuters
 

ArabFinance: Call centers are a good start for students and fresh graduates to gain experience and learn how to handle workplaces, says former Customer Service Agent Omnia Mohamed.

Egypt’s call center industry, a subsector of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, has been growing and attracting young professionals since the early 2000s. In 2005, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) launched a campaign to train hundreds of Egyptians to operate as customer service agents, and encourage international companies to establish their call centers in the country. The industry recorded an annual growth of nearly 50% between 2005 and 2011, Egypt Independent previously reported citing experts.

The government’s efforts to develop the industry included the construction of a call center zone in Maadi. Established through the collaboration of different governmental bodies, such as the MCIT, the Ministry of Investment, and Cairo Governorate, the Maadi Technology Park currently houses companies like Raya and Vodafone, which are known for welcoming a large share of the Egyptian youth.

“The ICT sector in Egypt is very robust, with a growth rate higher than Egypt’s level of GDP growth. Its contribution to the GDP has increased to 4% in 2019 compared to 3.5% in 2018. Total investments in the sector increased by 24.3% in 2019 and reached $107 million in the first quarter of 2020 (142 investment deals vs 113 in 2018, and 40 in Q1 2020),” stated a 2020 report by the International Trade Administration.

The industry has particularly thrived during the Covid-19 pandemic as companies have been able to implement remote work and care for the safety and health of their employees without compromising their operations. Lockdown and social distancing have also encouraged other industries to expand the services offered through hotlines. Raya, for instance, has increased the number of employees within the banking sector by almost 10% to meet customers’ needs, Contact Center World quoted the company’s CEO Ahmed Refky in June 2020.

Why Egypt?

Egypt’s strategic proximity to three different continents makes it a perfect location for international companies looking at outsourcing their customer service. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound also makes it cheaper for companies to establish their call center units in the country, as costs with infrastructure and personnel are lower.

In addition to that, the country has a large annual rate of fresh graduates who find in the call center industry a good opportunity to join the workforce. The total enrollment of private university students in Egypt during the school year of 2016/2017 was about 100,000, according to Statista. That number is expected to rise to 300,000 by the academic year 2021/2022. Undergraduates are also welcome to apply to vacancies at call centers.

Young professionals' hub

The industry’s competitive salaries and simple recruitment process are the main reasons behind the high rates of young professionals working with customer service.

“This particular industry attracts a huge number of Egyptian youth because it does not require you to be a college graduate, and only requires a few skills, like communication and multitasking skills,” says Teleperformance’s Customer Service Agent Alaa Abdul Aziz.

For former agent Omnia Mohamed, it’s the easiest industry to get into for a student or a fresh graduate as it usually doesn't require any kind of experience.

“Fresh grads don't have the luxury of choosing their careers most of the time, because colleges don't give them the education that will benefit them in their field of work, so half the time they need to add certain qualifications to their resume, starting from taking courses in their fields to advancing to postgrad studies. Most of these options are too expensive for a non-experienced fresh grad, so they start working at call centers,” she says.

The industry is also particularly attractive to those hoping to develop communication skills and achieve stability at a young age. “It’s a stable job that has no risks,” says Salma Ahmed, Customer Care Representative at Vodafone Ireland.

Retaining young talents

Despite attractive to the Egyptian youth, the call center industry faces a great challenge to retain its young talents. “In most cases, working at a call center is a transition phase until a person finds another job,” says Salma Ahmed. “It’s more of a step we need to climb the career ladder,” Omnia Mohamed adds.

According to the former agent, the lack of space for personal growth was one of the reasons why she left the industry. “You're not learning any new skills after a while, just repeating what you already know over and over again until it becomes second nature. That's not a nurturing environment for one's mind,” she explains.

Customer Service Agent Abrar Ashour Mandour agrees and says he also plans to leave the industry. “Once I feel I gained enough experience and built self-confidence, I will focus on my major career, because having calls with customers for a long duration could cause depression,” he says.

Teleperformance’s Agent Yousef Mowafak Elamry, on the other hand, says he considers developing his career path within the industry. “The job is really interesting and I think I could actually move forward with it. Working at a call center made me more talkative. I used to be this person who would wait for people to talk to me instead of talking to them. I got more confidence on how I can communicate with people, how to socialize around strangers,” he told us.

Young professionals agree that, in order to retain more talents, the industry should provide more food for thought and better mental health assistance. Even Elamry, who sees a future for himself in the industry, had a bad experience that pushed his mental health to the edge.

“I didn’t know how to react when the first customer screamed at me and told me that I don’t know how to do my own job. I was very scared. I was speechless because the way they yelled at me was shocking. I had a breakdown after the call. I couldn’t really handle it,” he explains.

Agents are also often victims of racism and xenophobia when customers from North American and European countries identify their origins through their accents. “It took a toll on my mental health. Being on the receiving end of racist remarks and/or just abusive and loud customers. Being under-appreciated by management. I handled it the only way I could; I left. It wasn't the right environment or the right career path for me,” adds Omnia Mohamed.

For her, the call center industry should give employees opportunities to learn and grow. “Allow them to make decisions in their workplace and give them the freedom to act in tough situations instead of micromanaging them. Most of the time call centers focus on how ‘the customer is always right’ and ignore the feelings of their employees. Putting an abusive customer over their own employees should not be the norm,” she says.

Future growth

The Egyptian government plans to further develop and strengthen the country’s call center industry. “Under its ICT 2030 strategy, the Egyptian government is undertaking a series of investments, capacity building and training programs, digital government services reforms, and infrastructure upgrades,” stated the International Trade Administration.

The MCIT also plans to establish six new technology parks in the cities of Minya, Menoufiya, Mansoura, Sohag, Qena, and Aswan.

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