Unchaining a Creative Approach to Labor Shortage with Prison BPO Center

Ann All

Last month I wrote about some of India's challenges in retaining its position as the world's go-to location for offshoring. While India (and China too, which is also mentioned in my post) have huge populations, many people still live in rural areas that lack the educational opportunities and infrastructure needed to produce workers to fill positions at outsourcing companies.


India's government and some private companies are trying to address this shortfall with initiatives designed to create outsourcing jobs in some of the country's rural areas. When I interviewed Sridhar Vembu, CEO of AdventNet, the company behind the Zoho suite of online productivity applications, he described his company's success in recruiting Indian students right of out high school. The company gets highly passionate employees with a strong commitment to their employer, who are willing to try lots of different roles. The primary disadvantage of the program, Vembu told me, is that it's tough to achieve on any large scale. Still, I thought it was a very creative approach.


Indian services company Radiant Info Systems, is trying a similarly creative approach, albeit one that some people might see as a little crazy. (I know some of the colleagues who forwarded the story to me are among them!) As Network World reports, the company is setting up a BPO center at the Cherlapally Central Jail in India's Andhra Pradesh state. Radiant Info Systems executive C. Narayanacharyulu said about 200 inmates who have at least a high school degree will receive two to three months of training to prepare them to do data entry and other back-office tasks.


The jail will provide the space for the center, while Radiant will provide computers and the necessary communications infrastructure. The prisoners will receive between 100 Indian rupees (US$2.20) to 150 rupees a day, far more than the 15 rupees a day paid to other prisoners. Presumably, some of the inmates will use their new skills to seek employment in the outsourcing industry when they are released from jail. Both the Radiant executive and Andhra Pradesh's director general of prisons, who is also interviewed in the article, say they are interested in expanding the program to other prisons.


The program will focus on the local market, at least initially. I assume this is due to the potentially negative public relations that could result from having prisoners doing work for companies from other countries. After all, there is considerable pushback from some quarters for using any offshore employees. And I assume Radiant will be careful about ensuring prisoners have no access to sensitive data. If not, then maybe the company is crazy.


Still, I think it's quite progressive to give inmates a chance to learn skills for which plenty of jobs are available. This is largely lacking in U.S.. prisons, which rarely offer more than bare-bones general education courses taught by volunteers. Remember CEO Randall Stephenson's comment that AT&T had trouble finding enough qualified folks to fill some of the technical support positions it moved from India back to the United States? Prisoners with a genuine desire to better themselves would seem to be good candidates for training to perform exactly those kinds of jobs.

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May 18, 2010 9:42 AM Sshah Sshah  says:

Genius.  Who would have thought that prison time can mean productive time?  This will definitely give those prisoners a level up in their lives, which can help put their energy into something positive.  The only issue is how these people can get the training to do their job well and who will be brave enough to teach them.  Overall, people deserve a second chance to prove their worth in the society, and to their country.  Thanks for sharing!

Jun 7, 2010 12:29 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

"Still, I think it's quite progressive to give inmates a chance to learn skills for which plenty of jobs are available. "

Ann, I don't think this is progressive at all.  I think it is a slippery slope on multiple counts.  Protection of data is the obvious one.  But what about financial motivations to incarcerate people?

The motivation behind incarceration is no longer rehabilitation.  In fact, there are huge profits to be earned by recivitism and to report bad behavior so that a prisoner has no hope of parole.

Throw in a cheap source of labor and you have a potential nightmare on our hands.  I don't trust the private prisons in the United States to manage our correctional facilities.  Now throw in prisons in a country with rampant corruption and you will certainly see forced labor camps spring back to life!

Stop kidding yourselves.  This has nothing to do with teaching prisoners new skills so they can acquire jobs on the outside.  This is entirely about cheap, exploitable labor and most likely an insane profit margin on their labor. 

If you want to help prisoners, make sure they leave prison with an education. 


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