By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Offshore recruitment is becoming the latest feature in the country’s IT-business process management industry. Benefitting from a good US economy, the Philippines is now a choice destination for US staffing companies in need of US recruiters.
Filipino-owned Sysgen RPO, a subsidiary of Januarius Holdings Inc., has positioned strategically in this lucrative sector.
At the helm of Sysgen RPO is JIMMY ROA, a passionate leader who believes in hard work and integrity, not luck, as the best assurance to success.
Sysgen RPO is a spin off from parent company Sysgen, provider of IT staffing and recruitment in the Philippines. It is now the country’s leading Filipino-owned RPO focused on recruitment for US staffing companies.
The process is that Sysgen works for staffing companies in the US which outsourced their recruitment services to them. Once Sysgen is given the job orders, a Sysgen recruiter will look for candidates in the US by accessing to databases and job boards in the US.
“When we see candidates with good job description, we conduct preliminary interviews and if they are interested, we can schedule an interview and then pass them on to clients,” he adds.
RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) has become the trend where US recruiters based in the Philippines deal with qualified candidates, handle the tedious task of gathering and reviewing resumes. Sysgen’s experienced sourcers can help tap both passive and active candidates through various channels and search techniques.
This will free up the US-based staffing companies from laborious admin tasks and focus on more important business matters. Sysgen handles administrative recruiting tasks such as resumé formatting, market mapping, job ads creation/publication, database maintenance, and consultant care among others.
Now, Sysgen is a leading offshore RPO provider based in the Philippines. “Our goal is to provide unparalleled recruiting support utilizing skilled and accomplished recruiting professionals,” says Roa, who is mainly responsible for making Sysgen RPO the offshore RPO support provider of choice for staffing firms in the US, Canada, and Australia.
According to Roa, recruiters come from varied fields from HR, psychology, computer science graduates, and some are nursing graduates. These people are trained to recruit and made recruitment their profession. “So recruitment does not necessarily require an HR graduate but any course as long as they are assertive, passionate, persistent and know sales talk,” says Roa.
“Recruiting in many ways is marketing because they call a candidate and try to sell the job to a candidate,” he adds.
Offering jobs to individuals seemed a very easy task, but Roa stressed that while “It is not rocket science, it is not also a walk in the park.”
Consider the fact that with its 80 recruiters, they would normally make 2 placements a month.
“You have to convince them to make a move, that this is the best offer. That is where the salesman comes in handy,” he adds.
With the US economy enjoying robust growth, unemployment is so low as there is a steady stream of jobs.
“So companies continue to look for people especially during the Christmas season. If you are a UPS, Amazon, the need for logistics, truck drivers and people who would deliver packages is high. And if you are an insurance firm or healthcare provider, there are renewals every year and they need people to take care of those renewals,” he adds.
With that, there has been strong demand for US recruiters in the Philippines. The number one reason is cost efficiency in the Philippines.
“Staffing in the US is very competitive so the staffing companies in the US are trying to find ways to be more cost efficient so they come to us and ask us to work with them to look for American candidates for US jobs,” says Roa.
The numbers are very lucrative for US staffing firms. Recruiters in the US probably earn an average of $80,000 annually as against $24,000 annually in the Philippines. Of course, there are commissions on top of the base pay for good recruiters.
So far, Sysgen RPO has 80 US recruiters serving 20 clients in the US. On any given day, Roa said, they are probably working on about 400 jobs.
“But cost is not the only consideration,” Roa emphasizes, who puts the lifeline of the business on his people. “It is also the availability of recruiters. In the Philippines, we have a team of recruiters who are capable of working on these jobs.”
Aside from cost efficiency, Roa said Filipinos are preferred recruiters by American staffing companies because of their proficiency in the English language.
The Philippines is the third largest English language speaking country after the US and UK. It is competing against India in the outsourcing industry, but in terms of the English language, Filipinos are more proficient and their accent is neutral.
“We have a good number of clients who shifted their operations here mainly because candidates want to hear somebody who speaks English not in a funny way,” says Roa noting that accents can turn off good candidates.
Another reason is cultural affinity. “Filipinos know the US very well, we know about US TV shows, US movies, hamburgers and all, even their sense of humor. I talked to one American firm vice-president of a staffing company who said that he once told a joke to a foreign audience but they did not get it but when he told the joke to a Filipino audience they all laughed. So, culturally, we are closer to them,” he adds.
Large US firms have long been outsourcing their recruitment processes and the small and medium have followed suit having recognized this approach as more effective. In fact, Sysgen used to have a German client but the company has learned the trade and formed its own staffing operation in the Philippines.
“We are very cost efficient and quick in coming up with candidates,” he adds.
The most in demand jobs in the US are 50 percent technology-related and engineering while about 20 percent are in healthcare. They have jobs for traveling nurses, speech pathologists, and non- clinical positions such as office personnel, marketing assistants, tractor drivers and forklift operators.
According to Roa, job offerings in the US are also a combination of permanent and temporary or contracts. The temps or contracts now account for majority of job offers at 60 percent while the perms account for 40 percent.
“With the huge demand in the US, becoming a US recruiter has become very competitive also in the Philippines,” says Roa noting that even with its 80 recruiters, they are already considered the second biggest Filipino offshore RPO in the country. The biggest RPO is an American owned with 1,000 recruiters.
Offshore RPO though is still relatively new. It does not have any division yet in the IT Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), the umbrella organization of the IT-business process management firms in the country, although they fall under the category of call center. Roa sees the need to create a new division because this is a growing sector and US staffing companies are also starting to set up operations here to support their requirement in the US.
“The large staffing companies in the US are doing this function here and they are our competitors,” he adds.
As a company, Roa sees to grow their recruiters to 100 by end this year from the current 80. “Everyday there is an opportunity because we are now in the digital market so people are constantly looking for RPO and the Philippines always comes to mind,” says Roa noting the Philippines always comes up first in online searches for RPOs.
“We also get a lot of inquiries from US staffing companies and they come here to check our facilities,” says Roa.
Roa expects 25 percent increase in revenues this year compared to last year’s P100 million. In the next five years, Roa aims to maintain the 25 percent annual growth rate and ramp up its US recruiters to 300 serving at least 30 companies.
“It is a good business and the gross margins are very interesting, but the key is to be able to maintain our service by being able to deliver the metrics,” adds Roa of the company, which is 40 percent owned by JJ Atencio, chairman and CEO of Januarius Holdings Inc.
His boss JJ, a psychology graduate from Ateneo, believes that “Business is not about products and not even about numbers, it’s about people. I like this business because you keep dealing with new people and giving them new opportunities to get new jobs.”
Roa is also looking at expanding a center in Clark where there is no competitor yet. He sees good opportunity to hire call center agents and train them to become US recruiters.
Recruiting can be frustrating, too. At times when you have lined up 5 people for interviews, but only two showed up. Sometimes you put up job ads and 100 people applied but only 5 percent are qualified.
“It is frustrating because you still go through all those processes, that is the legwork that we need to do,” says Roa.
But the job is lucrative for good recruiters. That is why there are opportunities for local recruiters to become US recruiters because it would be easier for them to transition as they already have exposure and more confident in dealing with American job candidates. There is also 20-30 percent premium for US recruiters.
With the strong demand for US recruiters, offshore RPOs are already engaged in poaching people.
“But we cannot rely on poaching. The way we address is to continually train people,” says Roa.
Sysgen has hired a training manager who has been in the industry for ten long years now and has developed a training program for Sysgen.
“You cannot recruit without clear understanding of the job, you cannot recruit an IT applicant if you do not know Microsoft or what Java is all about. For technical works, we include the technical terminologies to acquaint our recruiters,” he adds.
“The five week-training program will give you the ins and outs of recruitment, processes, access to different job boards, how to initiate a call, what questions to ask, how to convince a candidate that this is a good job, preparing a cover letter and if its technical what are the terminologies,” says Roa.
There is also a nesting period where a tenure recruiter sits beside a new hire and do calls together. During this training period, the most experienced recruiter will critique the trainee.
In some instances, Sysgen clients also help with the training and bring in their staff to help train local recruiters on their processes, and how to use their software, like their applicant tracking system.
Despite the strong competition for US recruiters, Roa says they have maintained a 15 percent attrition rate, which is a lot lower than the industry’s 50 percent.
He attributed the low attrition to employee engagement and being able to give their employees a bit more than the competitors. They also exert effort to make the work environment more fun. They celebrate important American holidays like Thanksgiving Day, 4Th of July and Martin Luther King Day. They also have the HMO and government mandated benefits.
Roa came from a family of actuaries. His grandfather Emeterio C. Roa Sr. was one of the founders of the Philippine Actuarial Society, whose mission was to advance actuarial science in the country. His grandfather aced all his validation exams in the US as an actuary. Jimmy’s father Emeterio Jr. also followed as an actuary.
While he did not follow the family tradition, he is proud though of his heritage saying, he too, has inclination towards math, but becoming an actuary is something he does not want to do.
Roa admitted he was not as cerebral as his ancestors. Roa did not take his college life seriously. It took him 9 years to graduate from college with the degree of BS Philosophy from the University of the Philippines because that was his way to graduate. With all the elective subjects he accumulated from shifting from different courses BS Bio, BS Math, Political Science and Philosophy, it was enough for him to end up as Philo graduate.
“That is why I never went into the corporate life. I knew I wouldn’t climb the corporate ladder but I can be an entrepreneur,” says Roa, who admitted being naughty as a student even during his high school days.
But he is the jolly good fellow, who looks at things from a brighter perspective. “I laugh a lot because it is stressful to be too serious,” says Roa, who as a manager trusts his people to run the operation without him.
“Being a street smart, learning the value of hard work and integrity, being honest and doing the right things, people will trust you,” says Roa.
True enough, Roa has made it as an entrepreneur capitalizing on his love for technology and the computer and working smart.
“My father described me as both a blessing and a problem and also called me a late bloomer and I was glad I was able to show that to them. It is really having the right mindset, willingness to work hard. In fact, my son described me as the most hardworking person he has seen in his entire life,” says Roa whose roots can be traced from the famous Roa clan of Cagayan de Oro and is somehow related from the mother’s side of President Roa Duterte.
The original Roas though originated from Basque, Spain.
Roa starts his day as early as 5 in the morning or at midnight depending on his clients’ time zone. He works 12-14 hours a day. But if he gets burnout, he flies to Singapore to recharge by seeing his grandchild.
Among the businessmen in the country, Roa admires Manny V. Pangilinan for his rags to riches story.
“MVP worked and studied hard and that has gotten him to places,” says Roa. “We have to admire all those taipans such as Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, and John Gokongwei who started from nothing as immigrants from China but build their enterprise from shoes, tobacco and empty bottles.”
“JJ is another person who I admire. JJ is a self-made man, I wouldn’t consider him really poor when he started, but he’s amazing with what he has done with his career. He is very compassionate and he is a man for others,” says the 59-year old executive.
As for Roa, “I don’t really believe in luck, but recognizing opportunity and doing something about it.”