The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Old is gold in job market
- Outsourcing firms look for loyal & mature employees

Mumbai, Feb. 28: Middle age is no longer a dirty word.

Niru and John are on the wrong side of 40, David on the wrong side of 50 and Renuka refuses to tell her age, but admits to being a grandmother.

They have all joined as beginners at EXL Service, a leading business process outsourcing firm (BPO) based in Noida offering financial services, and are being looked at as a prize set of employees.

“Last year, their ad saying ‘age no bar’ caught my eye. It was as attractive as a matrimonial ad,” says David.

They are not the only ones in the company. “About 15 to 20 per cent of our employees belong to the over-30 age group,” says Deepak Dhawan, vice-president, HR and training, EXL Service. The percentage could go up more in the near future, as the company is very happy with the performance of its “mature employees”.

To check the high attrition rate — it is said to be 30 to 35 per cent — the BPO industry is increasingly turning to older people. “We hire about 300 to 400 people on a monthly basis,” says Dhawan. The older people will not kick their jobs without notice, like the 23-year-olds do, and go for higher education or a change of profession — even when sleepless nights, borrowed names and false accents become unbearable. If the new recruit has no experience related to BPO, he will be treated as novice, regardless of age.

“The trend of hiring older people is bound to catch on in a big way. Most of the youngsters change jobs as soon as they get a better offer,” says Sunil Mehta, vice-president, Nasscom. “In comparison, the 35-plus group is more stable. They are not prone to job and party-hopping, which impacts productivity. They are more loyal, have realistic aspirations and have an element of maturity along with the discipline required for this kind of a job.”

The recruitment drive is on, though others are more tentative. “As a pilot it is being tried out at one of our locations,” says S. Varadarajan, vice-president, talent engagement and development, Wipro Spectramind. “The results still need to be validated by calibrating their performance scores with other associates across the organisation.”

According to Mindsources, a Mumbai-based recruiting agency for BPO firms, a 42-year-old manager with a hotel with a salary of Rs 42,000 per month recently gave up his job and took up a job as a beginner at a BPO unit at Rs 12,000 per month, because he saw more growth opportunities.

“It is in an experimentation stage,” says Alcide Neil D’Souza, the business head of the BPO unit. “I would say about 20 to 26 per cent of BPO employees are 30 plus now,” he says. According to the industry, BPO firms like Vertex, eFunds, Msource, Intelenet Global Services and Daksh are considering older people as better human resource investment.

“We are partial towards the older age group. Last year, we put up an ad that said ‘Age no bar’,” Dhawan adds. “They bring maturity and stability. Bringing in people from different age groups expands the talent pipeline,” he says.

“It is happening more in the back offices, where the operations focus on financial services like accounting, than in call centres or customer care services,” says V. Bharathwaj, assistant vice-president of the BPO 247 Customer. “But there are a couple of cases of older people in our organisation, too,” he says.

If the companies are happy with their new recruits, so are the employees, who are as excited about their careers as they are serious. Because suddenly for many it is good money and even growth opportunity after a number of years when there was no opportunity. It’s a win-win situation.

At a BPO firm, for an employee who has joined as beginner, salaries tend to double in two years, sometimes even earlier. There are rapid promotions.

All BPO firms are keen to arrest the attrition because they spend about Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 on training an employee.

Sheela K., human resources vice-president of Nipuna Services, the Satyam Computer’s BPO subsidiary, says: “Currently, in our organisation no candidate above the age of 28 is recruited at the entry level. However, with plans of expansion, the option will be explored to bring in diversity and stability in the organisation.”

She says at several centres older people comprised 10 to 30 per cent of the employee strength at the entry level.

At EXL, 40-plus Niru, a former researcher, is a beginner; grandmother Renuka, a former teacher of English, a customer care executive; 40-plus John, a “BA and BEd” and a former bank employee, a fresher; and 50-plus (“no vanities for me”) David, who sold consumer durables abroad, is another customer care executive. They say their work atmosphere is excellent as there is a performance-based transparent evaluation system; their salaries look set to go up and so do their careers.

They have no problem in settling for the same place as the 23-year-old in the next seat. There is no ego problem, they say. “I was apprehensive about the younger people, but I got along well with them. I even play agony aunt to some of them,” she says.

“My body is used to the night shifts now. I even have an extra edge as an older person — I am more tolerant and a harder worker,” says Renuka.

“I will stay as long as I will be able to do justice to the job,” she adds.

“Age has an advantage,” jokes David, though it doesn’t get him extra money or a higher position at a BPO firm. “It is still respected and father figures still dominate!”

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