How AI-enabled SpeechX assesses BPO candidates’ English proficiency

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

MANILA, Philippines – BPO applicants in the Philippines could soon be interacting with an AI-powered assessment tool to get hired.

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

Anirban Barman Roy, Mercer Mettl’s chief revenue officer, said candidates were required to “answer a specific set of questions and are automatically scored by a backend scoring engine to receive an English proficiency score” that meets Common European Framework standards of Reference for Languages ​​(CEFR), an international standard for describing language skills.

Roy explained: “The tool gives the candidates a score, but also tells them where the skill gaps are and it classifies them by saying which of them are trainable and which are not. For example, in English there are certain pronunciations of vowels and consonants that if you get them wrong you really can’t get them right because they’re hardwired into you. But then there are other mistakes like grammar or the way you pronounce a few words that you can correct over time with practice.

So we break it down into trainable and non-trainable areas, which is a great insight for companies because they now know where to spend their training money.”

While the tool follows 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 penalize the candidate unfairly just because the accent is different,” Roy said.

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

Since the tests can be conducted remotely at home, the tool also uses AI-enabled video and audio monitoring to detect potential cheating and misconduct by candidates, such as: B. when someone in the room provides verbal assistance to the candidate or when someone else takes the test for them.

According to Mercer Mettl, BPO companies can use the tool to speed up the assessment process by at least 20%. The tool also brings standardization to the assessment process and reduces bias that can arise from human assessors.

For candidates who are more used to face-to-face assessments with humans, Roy said not to worry because the tool is “not very alien to what humans have done.”

“It’s a very clean interface. We’ve put a lot of focus into keeping the candidate experience really, really good so they don’t struggle with the interface or with the way the questions are asked. You can just click a button to play a passage in English, listen to it, and then there is a specific time within which you have to record your answer. We can advise people to take demo or mock assessments before coming in for the actual assessment. This is what we ask of companies – to provide candidates with a demo link before they go to the final test.”

The tool is now being used by some multinational BPO companies in the Philippines and discussions are ongoing with major local BPO players in the market. According to a March 2022 report by the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines, turnover rates in the BPO industry are estimated to be between 30% and 40% in 2022. The industry employs about 1.35 million in the country, which is about 10%. the global BPO workforce. – Rappler.com

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