Kearny Mesa call center puts a focus on veterans

Desert Call Connection employs a dozen veterans

SAN DIEGO - A Kearny Mesa call center is putting a focus on hiring veterans. About a dozen are employed in the company as a whole so far. But like many other call centers across the country, it is fighting pressures of outsourcing.

Julio Palafox is just one of the employees at Desert Call Connection. But before Palafox was answering phones behind a desk, he was behind enemy lines in Iraq as a reconnaissance Marine.

"I was never worried about looking behind me because I always knew someone had my six. Someone had my back the whole time," said Palafox.

He says after two years spent overseas, he knew it was time to come home and be a father.

"Nothing is more important than family to me," he said. "I went without a lot of things growing up and I never want them to go without anything. I realized essentially I missed (my son's) whole first year."

When he came back home to San Diego, his son and daughter were waiting for him, but a job was not. He says after countless applications and very few interviews, he and his family had to move back in with his parents.

"It was very disheartening initially," said Palafox. "I expected to come back with experience from the Marine Corps, experience leading a platoon if I had to and have that translate to a supervisor role. But the transition to the civilian workforce was difficult."

The CEO of Desert Call Connection says he took Palafox on without hesitation.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that a veteran returning to San Diego is not able to find work and is not greeted warmly and is not greeted with open arms by the community," said president and CEO Gabriel Bristol. "It was not enough, though, to say, 'That's unfortunate.' I was fortunate to be in a position to give somebody this courageous and somebody this strong an opportunity."

The call center does not just hire veterans. Eighty-five San Diegans work inside the 12,500-square-foot call center. Many of them say they have struggled to find work in this economy.

"It was very hard to make ends meet, but we did. Because when you have to, you do. And when you're a mom, you just make it work," said Joie Andre, a single mother who also works at Desert Call Connection.

Employees are allowed to bring their children to work if they do not have child care. It is this policy that has allowed Andre to support her son.

"This place was in the right place at exactly the right time," said Andre.

For both Palafox and Andre, the growing wave of outsourcing weighs heavy on their minds. In 2011, almost 2.3 million U.S. jobs were outsourced. 12 percent of them were from call centers, according to a report by Sourcing Line Computer Economics. But Desert Call Connection says it is fighting to stay in San Diego.

"We constantly see and feel the pressures of outsourcing. And, yes, many jobs here in San Diego have moved overseas: moved to the Philippines, moved to India, moved to Eastern Europe," said Bristol.

It is a pressure Bristol says he has seen many San Diego call centers crumble under in the past decade. But Bristol believes although outsourcing looks good for the bottom line, it carries a hidden cost.

"There is often a cultural disconnect," said Bristol. "What we see is the customer doesn't relate to the product or trust the customer service."

Palafox says he often gets asked by customers on the phone where he is located. He is proud to give his answer: "I'm as American as they come."

Desert Call Connection tells 10News it plans to expand in San Diego, and to double the number of veterans it employs in the coming months.

It is a move Bristol says is just good business.

"Who exemplifies grace under pressure better than someone who has been in a war?" he asked. "Who thinks on their feet quicker with customers?"

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