How AI-enabled SpeechX will assess the English skills of BPO candidates

The tool was developed through a research partnership with US-based Carnegie Speech, which uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence technologies licensed from Carnegie Mellon University.

MANILA, Philippines — BPO candidates in the Philippines could soon interact with an AI-based assessment tool to get hired.

Mercer Mettl, one of the world’s largest providers of assessment technology, launched SpeechX, a new communication assessment tool powered by artificial intelligence, on July 12. The tool is able to assess a candidate’s spoken English in terms of grammar, fluency, the way a person speaks, listening comprehension skills, pronunciation and a candidate’s trainability particular.

Mercer Mettl Chief Revenue Officer Anirban Barman Roy said candidates are asked to “answer a specific set of questions and are automatically assessed by a background scoring engine to give an aligned English proficiency score.” on the standards of the Common European Framework. Reference for Languages ​​(CEFR), an international standard for describing language ability.

Roy explained, “The tool not only scores candidates, but it also tells them where the skills gaps are and ranks them by indicating which of them can be trained and which are not. For example, there are certain pronunciations of vowels and consonants in English, which if you get them wrong, you really can’t get them right because they’re hard-wired into you. But there are other types of mistakes like grammar or how to pronounce a few words that can be corrected over time with practice.

That’s why we distinguish between trainable and untrainable areas, which is a great idea for companies, as they now know where to spend their training budget. »

Although the tool subscribes to CEFR standards, Roy explained that it also takes into account regional nuances and local accents. “For example, if there is a different accent in the Philippines than in India or Latin America, the system will not unfairly penalize the candidate just because the accent is different,” Roy said. .

The tool is based on an English speech and grammar database, developed through a research partnership with the American company Carnegie Speech, which uses speech recognition and artificial intelligence technologies licensed from the University Carnegie Mellon. The partnership with Carnegie Speech is one of the advantages the company claims to have over other similar tools. “Our differentiation is in the quality of our algorithm,” Roy said. “We have already replaced some of these competitions in large BPO establishments in India, and we hope to do the same in the Philippines.”

Since the tests can be done remotely at home, the tool also uses AI-enabled video and audio monitoring to detect possible cheating and misconduct by candidates, such as someone in the room. providing verbal assistance to the candidate or someone else taking the test for them.

Using this tool, Mercer Mettl claims that BPO companies can speed up the assessment process by at least 20%. The tool also brings standardization to the review process and reduces bias that can result from human reviewers.

For candidates who are more accustomed to face-to-face assessments with humans, Roy said not to worry because the tool is “not very foreign to what people have been doing.”

“It’s a very clean interface. We’ve focused a lot on keeping the candidate experience really, really good so that they don’t struggle with the interface, they don’t struggle with how the questions are asked. You can just click a button to play an English passage, listen to it, and then there’s a particular time in which you have to record your response. What we can advise is that people do demos or mock reviews before showing up for the real one. That’s what we ask companies to do: make a demo link available to candidates before they take the final test.

The tool is now being rolled out to some multinational BPO companies in the Philippines, and discussions are underway with major local BPO players in the market. Attrition rates in the BPO industry are estimated to be between 30% and 40% in 2022, according to a report by the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines in March 2022. The industry employs approximately 1.35 million people in the country, which accounts for about 10% of the global BPO workforce. –

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