Thursday, April 19, 2012
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.