Posted On February 5th, 2013
Under-employment in UK call centres
The BBC have produced a report detailing what they say are that there are now 1 in 10 people in the The UK who are under-employed. This is either people working part-time or working in an environment which is failing to make full use of their skills and abilities. It's pretty fair to assume that some of these are in call centre positions.
Over the past few years, I've seen a number of call centres telling me that the economic downturn is really helping to improve the quality of applicants willing and able to work in UK call centres. This should come as no surprise especially to someone like me who witnessed something very similar in the early 1990's. When I graduated, my plan was to become an accountant. I went back to my home town in Warwickshire to find some temporary employment to help my massive debts and to focus on looking for a suitable position. I took a temporary job with a company called Merit Direct in Stratford-Upon-Avon which was then the largest company of its type in an industry which had yet to take on the definition of 'call centre outsourcing'. Direct Marketing Magazine used to publish the 'Telemarketing League Table' which detailed the industry players with the largest revenues. Merit Direct normally topped the league table, closely followed by The Decisions Group in Kingston-Upon-Thames. The two companies had common ownership and in 1997 were acquired by SITEL. Many of the people who started work as call centre agents at both Merit and Decisions are now amongst the people who continue to shape the industry as we know it today. The same is true of employees from other industry players at the time such as BPS (Teleperformance) and Merchants. The point of this short personal history is that history could well be repeating itself. There is of course 1 major difference this time around. The industry back in the early 1990's was small and now it is large. The incredible growth of the industry in that time created the opportunities for advancement which I'm afraid will not be available this time as there is no way the industry could repeat that level of growth.
One thing which is often overlooked by industry outsiders is that the driver for offshoring contact centres was not simply about cost. Clearly, it was a major issue but so too was the limited availability of suitable staff in The UK. The media which has been so against offshoring over the past 10 years seems to imply that there were queues of people in The UK looking for call centre jobs. Those on the inside will know this is simply untrue. HR Managers across the country will tell you that they are in a constant battle to recruit and retain quality agents. The economic downturn has definitely freed up availability but if the market decides to get better, will we simply be left with a huge number of vacancies and a rapid decline in the quality of staff applying for call centre positions? The moral of the story is quite simple. You should plan your long-term staffing requirements based on a more buoyant labour market than we have now. You should also ensure that the staff you take on are likely to want to stay once the market has picked up and that you're not just employing a group of people who will soon become disgruntled at their lack of progression through the call centre and possibly within the rest of your organisation.