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4/18/2012
08:23 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
Commentary
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Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars

Multimillion dollar USAID program trains college students in the Philippines to work in offshore call centers, but one Congressman tells InformationWeek he's going to put a stop to it.

Despite President Obama's recent call for companies to "insource" jobs sent overseas, it turns out that the federal government itself is spending millions of dollars to train foreign students for employment in some booming career fields--including working in offshore call centers that serve U.S. businesses.

The program is called JEEP, which stands for Job Enabling English Proficiency. It's available to college students in the Philippines through USAID. That's the same agency that until a couple of years ago was spending millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money to train offshore IT workers in Sri Lanka--until I reported that inconvenient truth in this story. The ensuing uproar led to the Sri Lanka initiative's termination.

A JEEP document published by USAID notes that the program "is classroom based, and focuses on the specialized English skills required by employers in areas such as: nursing and allied healthcare; maritime services; travel and tourism services; business process outsourcing (BPO), and other areas of international employment." Students--there are about 23,000 in the Philippines currently enrolled--commit to undertake 400 hours of training during two years of study.

It's the BPO (another name for call center operations) part of the curriculum that's troubling for U.S. offshoring opponents. When I informed Congressman Tim Bishop (D-New York) about the program on Tuesday, he called it "surprising and distressing." Bishop, who was instrumental in getting USAID to end its Sri Lanka program, recently introduced a bill that would make companies that outsource call centers ineligible for government contracts.

The U.S. "has lost five hundred thousand call center jobs in the last five years," Bishop noted during a phone interview.

[ What impacts workers more, outsourcing or automation? See Outsourcing or Automation: No Difference To Unemployed Workers. ]

JEEP is part of a larger USAID initiative in the Philippines, known as Growth and Equity in Mindanao (GEM), on which the agency is spending about $100 million per year, according to an audit by the USAID's Office of Inspector General. Mindanao is a region in the southern Philippines that's known as a stronghold for Muslim rebels opposed to the central government.

"The JEEP program was developed to promote peace and stability in Mindanao by teaching English to youth in conflict-prone areas to help them pursue gainful employment in tourism, nursing and other locally-based industries and to break the cycle of violence which had gripped that region of the Philippines," a USAID spokesperson said, in an e-mail.

Bishop countered that such efforts shouldn't come at the expense of U.S. workers. "We have foreign policy imperatives, we have international development imperatives, but our No. 1 imperative has to be the protection and creation of jobs here in this country," Bishop said.

USAID's spokesperson said JEEP is set to expire at the end of the year. But Bishop wants it stopped immediately, he said.

"We have a serious jobs deficit in this country and the fact that we would spend U.S. taxpayer dollars to prepare foreign nationals to take over jobs that can easily be done by Americans is shocking" he said. "I'm going to write to the USAID administrator and demand that this program be terminated. And during the appropriations process I will entertain any option I have to cut off the flow of funds to this project."

What's especially troubling is that the JEEP program is operating even as President Obama is calling on companies to return call center work and other jobs to the U.S. Here's what he said at an "insourcing summit" at The White House in January. "My message to business leaders today is simple. Ask yourself what you can do to bring jobs back to the country that made our success possible. And I'm going to do everything in my power to help you do it."

Even as he spoke, the President's hand-picked head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, was overseeing a program to train offshore call center workers. Is that hypocrisy or just managerial incompetence on the part of the White House?

In my view, if a privately-owned company (including "publicly" traded ones like IBM) wants to outsource work overseas, that's its business. Ultimately, the executives who make such a decision will be answerable to shareholders and customers. If the strategy works, they'll be rewarded. If not, they'll get pummeled by the market.

But it's unfathomable that a federal agency like USAID should be (again) dipping into the public trough for money to train foreign nationals to work in overseas call centers.

Nominate your company for the 2012 InformationWeek 500--our 24th annual ranking of the nation's very best business technology innovators. Deadline is April 27. Organizations with $250 million or more in revenue may apply for the 2012 InformationWeek 500 now.

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Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
4/18/2012 | 5:40:58 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Teaching Filipinos English so they can talk with American tourists- sure, that makes sense. Wouldn't be a bad idea to train Americans in other languages to encourage tourism here, too. But not going beyond that to call center and programming job training.

This probably flew under the radar at the upper levels but someone down below did it intentionally and needs to be held accountable.
angry
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angry,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/21/2012 | 5:17:47 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
What is wrong with the people that We the People have sent to Washington DC and our State Capitols to represent us are all of them Idiots and do they have to train the people in other country's to do the jobs that should be done right here in America. When are the people going to wise up and see that our Government does not give a Damn about any of us and they are to busy sending our tax dollars to foreign country's to worry about people in the United States.
Bay Area CA Male
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Bay Area CA Male,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/18/2012 | 9:14:04 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
post articles like these on facebook so your friends and family can see them.

its funny how sad americans really are...

i did my own little experiment on my facebook when i posted a comment about kim kardasian when she started seeing kanye west... I had almost 15 comments....

Then i posted an article about barack obama appointing a former head of monsanto to run the FDA... Crickets!!!!!!
amandap
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amandap,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2012 | 10:31:17 AM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Something has to be done in America to change this economy around. Is this helping any? The automobile industry was what put the US on the map, but since that failed here, what else can be done?
Nuaka
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Nuaka,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/3/2012 | 3:24:42 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Well played, industry hack. You misrepresented a solid job skills training project in a region critical to domestic security as "outsourcing" and got it shut down. Next you should go to the farm press with an article describing agricultural development programs in Africa as taking jobs from Iowa farmers. I'm sure you'll sell the story, and probably can get the project scrapped as well, given the power of the farm lobby. Other than being English language, was there any tie between the program and the U.S.? You do realize that other countries also speak English? Perhaps if you would travel abroad someday you'll begin to notice that we don't have exclusive rights to the language.
PMcDougall
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PMcDougall,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/3/2012 | 3:42:53 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Thanks for the comment Nuaka. BPO stands for Business Process OUTSOURCING. Not sure how that's a misrepresentation.
Nuaka
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Nuaka,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2012 | 12:20:15 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Because the article claims that American jobs are being outsourced through the program, without substantiation. It makes the assumption that only Americans speak English, and so an English language program must only affect America. English is the language of international business and the most widely used language in the world (according to Wikipedia), as well as the official language of the European union and the primary language of the U.K., Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, etc. Moreover, English language skills are not a limitation for companies hiring in the Philippines; they won't have to close now, they will just hire young people from Manila who already speak English. The point of the program was to help people from an area which is very vulnerable to the influence of international terrorist groups to get connected to employment as well. That makes our country safer, because they don't then fly planes into buildings. But you decided to write a hair-on-fire article implying that the project was targeting American jobs. Nice work.
Bay Area CA Male
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Bay Area CA Male,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/18/2012 | 9:17:17 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
so i see you are fully bought into the whoel terrorist fear mongering they have americans focused on....

despite all the suspicious facts about thermite at 9/11 and the whole insurance scam led by silverstein only possible after privatizing the WTC after 30 years of being public domain, and the USA blaming Bin laden then invading a totally different country followed by pretending Bin Laden was not a big deal...

I guess you love the babyfood you are fed from cnn and fox news!
Bay Area CA Male
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50%
Bay Area CA Male,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/18/2012 | 9:22:43 PM
re: Asian Call Center Workers Trained With U.S. Tax Dollars
Hey BTW... this is my new favorite site.

Ive been going to newspapers in other countries to get facts about the US... and some conspiracy website here at home but sometimes its hard to get thru the noise at the conspiracy sites. but at least you get leads or subjects that you can google later on.
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