Building Cross-Sector Careers in India's New Service Economy? Tracking Former Call Centre Agents in the National Capital Region


  • Bhaskar Vira,

    1. is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EN, UK (e-mail:, and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College. His research engages with the political economy of development, especially the changing economic dynamics of development in India, as well as the social and political dimensions of development and change.
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  • Al James

    1. is a Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography at Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK (e-mail: His research interests are in economic-geographical methodology and practice; gendered geographies of work-life and employment in the New Economy; the rise of India's new service economy; and the regional cultural economy of learning, innovation and entrepreneurship.
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The authors are grateful to the Nuffield Foundation (Grant number SGS32848), Smuts Memorial Fund and the Isaac Newton Trust, University of Cambridge, which provided support for the project on which this paper is based, and to the editors of the journal and three anonymous referees for their feedback on an earlier draft. The usual disclaimers apply.


This article presents findings from a labour mobility survey of 250 former call centre agents in India's National Capital Region (September 2008) exploring individuals’ employment before, during and immediately after leaving India's high-profile call centre ‘industry’. These data are combined with forty-two in-depth interviews conducted in India's NCR (July 2006 to August 2008) with call centre agents, managers, ex-call centre agents, labour organizers and economic development officials, as well as representatives from different labour market intermediaries. The study gives a cautiously optimistic account about the call centre work and employment opportunities on offer in India's ‘IT Enabled Services – Business Processing Outsourcing’ (or ITES-BPO) industry, and their implications for young urban middle class graduates based on: (i) the movement of around one fifth of the ex-call centre agent sample into further study, facilitated by relatively high call centre salaries; (ii) the movement of ex-call centre agents into higher paying job roles in a wide range of sectors including banking, IT, insurance, marketing, real estate and telecommunications; and (iii) the development of transferable skills in Indian call centres that are recognized by ex-call centre agents and their subsequent employers as conferring a labour market advantage in other sectors of India's new service economy relative to colleagues without prior call centre work experience.