Helping Agents Grow and Prosper Through Capacity Building

Mike Dershowitz
Jul 15 · 6 min read
Photo by from Pexels

We should never stop learning, even when we are in our twilight years. Learning, after all, doesn’t end with a college degree. It can happen in an informal setting, when you least expect it.

Learning, however, cannot happen without a deep-seated interest in the topic being presented. That’s why, in an office setting, learning and development programs are more effective when every employee understands why it’s important to learn.

That’s where Rethink’s Learning and Development programs take their inspiration. We don’t want to push learning on Agents because it makes us look better than our competitors. We want Agents to learn because it benefits them and us over the long term.

Mastering ESL for Personal Economic Growth

In his book, A World of Three Zeros, Muhammad Yunus said that humans will and always yearn to be productive, creative, and to grow throughout their lives.

This desire to progress in themselves is what drives our Agents to sign up for additional training or apprenticeships. Our English Proficiency (“EP”) program has been our most successful. Even when they had to come in a couple of hours before their shift or stay behind after work, our agents make time for their EP classes. When we offer a new round of classes, they’re quickly subscribed, and our completion rates are high.

A great example is Alemar, one of Rethink’s employees who started as a data entry specialist and now works as a team leader. He was promoted after a year of working at Rethink because of hard work and his leadership skills. But, he recently got a raise because he just finished his EP course and was able to “level up” from a “beginning English speaker” to “Junior Level.” Keep in mind these levels were created for the BPO industry — so “Beginner” means enough English to serve clients in data entry.

Alemar isn’t the only agent to reap the benefits of the EP program. When the first batch finished the course in May, 90% of them has leveled up with 15% progressing two levels in English Proficiency.

At Rethink, progress — especially in learning and development — means a raise in wages. If you’re more highly skilled, you should be paid more. We tied down progress with financial rewards as a means to break the traditional way of giving raises based on an employee’s tenure.

The traditional way doesn’t encourage growth; rather, it promotes complacency and setting the bar low for achievements. It also continues to feed the misguided notion that employees must be spoon fed information in order to do their job. That’s why the modular structure of our EP classes encourages self-study which emphasizes the pursuit of learning as a personal endeavor.

Photo by hitesh choudhary from Pexels

Apprenticeships in Web and Software Development

English Proficiency isn’t the only L&D program we have in store for our employees. We’re well-aware that more than 35% of our customer support agents are graduates of an IT-related University degree in the Philippines.. From that pool of talented workers, we can help a significant number move into a more rewarding career path in software or web development.

Whether it’s a front-end or back-end specialization or becoming a full-stack developer, we can give these Agents the opportunity to overcome limitations they may have right now regarding their job, in order to realize their full potential as IT professionals.

“… Capacity building is much more than training. It encompasses the development of a person’s individual capabilities, and how those increased abilities benefit them economically.”

We call this capacity building.

Capacity building is a term often used in the nonprofit world to refer to activities that enhance an organization’s ability to have a positive impact on lives and communities they serve. In the field of policy making, it refers to enhancing the ability of decision makers “to evaluate and address the crucial questions related to policy choices and modes of implementation among development options, based on an understanding of environment potentials and limits and of needs perceived by the people of the country concerned.” (UNCED, 1992)

Based on these definitions, we have decided that capacity building is much more than training. It encompasses the development of a person’s individual capabilities, and how those increased abilities benefit them economically.

While we formalize learning, much of the most economically valuable learning comes from others already doing the same job. In this sense, capacity building provides an environment wherein learning occurs through social interaction between learners and mentors. This is possible through apprenticeship where senior-level employees share their knowledge and skills with their junior co-workers. Over time we’ve learned that the best learning comes right at the point you’re trying to accomplish something, and you can ask someone more senior “How would you do this?”

How English Study Benefits Employees

We’ve already established that capacity building is more than training workers on how to do their job better. We designed an L&D framework that empowers and engages our Agents in their own learning process and provides definite rewards. This fosters a sense of ownership over their educational experience.

At Rethink, we have a learning and development program that balances theory and practice through a mix of modalities. The modular lessons take care of refreshing the store knowledge that our Agents already have after years of studying English at school. At the same time, the lessons also introduce learners to words and concepts that they may have missed while in school.

Meanwhile, the EP classes that our Agents participate in give them the right venue and atmosphere to practice what they’ve already studied. These classes help them develop an ear for American English. It’s a practical learning experience that pushes them to juggle between listening, comprehending, processing, and responding to questions and statements in English.

The cognitive benefits of learning a second language have been widely studied and proven many times. Bilinguals and multilinguals are better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects. Along with a second language, bilinguals become better at processing cognitive and sensory information, which leads to improvements in memory, visual-spatial ability, problem solving, and even creativity.

And human languages aren’t the only languages that employees can learn. Machine languages, such as the ones used to develop software, create an app, or design a website, also bring about the same benefits to learners.

In the case of web and software developers, learning a new programming language improves their cognitive abilities. Compared to learning a human language, coding demands so much thinking power from the brain that it can sometimes lead to mental exhaustion in some people.

In 2014, German researchers used fMRI to scan programmers’ brains while they analyzed chunks of code. The results of that study were similar to studies on bilinguals and multilinguals. Working with source code uses parts of the brain associated with language processing, memory, attention, and logic.

Further, the kind of programming language that developers adopt makes a difference. Learning to code in Java, Python or any object-oriented programming language can positively influence a coder’s thinking abilities. These language allows coders to play around with their creation, experimenting with new ideas and seeing the results immediately.

How Capacity Building Benefits Employers

It doesn’t take much for employers to see they can benefit from learning and development programs. If these learning opportunities can expand the capabilities of their workforce, then managers have every reason to invest in L&D programs that allow their employees to go into jobs that require higher skills.

Higher skilled employees produce higher value work, which leads to all the types of increases that companies want — revenue, productivity, creativity, you name it. This is just the beginning. As Yunus told us, humans will never stop being productive, creative and grow. Start them on that path, and have fun seeing where they go!

Mike Dershowitz

Written by

Mike is the CEO of Rethink Fair Trade Outsourcing, a company that makes use of free markets for good and not evil. Visit for more info.

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