UK call centres on recruitment drive

Call centres in the UK will recruit an extra 200,000 workers over the next three years, taking employment levels over a million, an official report predicted today.

Call centres in the UK will recruit an extra 200,000 workers over the next three years, taking employment levels over a million, an official report predicted today.

Research for the Government showed that the sector was "healthy" and would employ four times as many workers than India by 2007.

The industry has grown by 250% in the UK since 1995, said the study, which was launched by the Department of Trade and Industry in response to concerns about jobs being lost to countries including India.

The report, criticised by unions for being "flawed", found that the quality of service in UK call centres was high, but perceptions of the industry could be improved.

Workers’ skills needed further improvement, particularly communication and customer service.

Despite perceptions of high turnover, workers spent an average of two years eight months in a call centre, the research found.

The report urged firms to consult with unions and customers before switching call centre work abroad and were told they should not compete on the basis of low costs.

Evidence suggested there were a large number of hidden and "poorly understood" costs associated with sending work offshore, such as relocating senior management and customer discontent.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt said: "This report shows that we have a vibrant call centre industry in the UK, with some of the best customer service professionals in the world ", and in fact it predicts a growth in call centre jobs.

"But we do need to position ourselves according to our strengths. Others are unbeatable on cost, but we are unbeatable on quality.

The best British call centres are the best in the world, offering high value businesses, high skill professionals, but we need to bring the quality of the rest up to that of the best."

Ms Hewitt said call centres had made it easier to book holidays or buy train tickets but she admitted it could be frustrating being put on hold for ages.

The research was being presented today at a Call Centre Association (CCA) conference in London.

CCA chief executive Anne Marie Forsyth said most consumers now used call centres to communicate with most public and private sector organisations.

"It is vital that the public is confident in these services and organisations do take seriously the need to improve professionalism."

David Fleming, national officer of Amicus, said the report had "missed the point", adding: "Offshoring is not just about call centres, the vast bulk of the 15,000 jobs offshored last year were things like accounting, human resources and IT.

"It does not show how offshoring will result in reinvestment in areas like Newcastle and it doesn’t explain why companies that are making massive profits have to chase short term cost cutting at the expense of long term global stability."

The DTI report showed that the typical call centre worker was female, in her mid to late 20s, with pay ranging from £12,000 (€17.600) for new starters to £27,000 (€39,000) for managers.

UK consumers had a negative attitude towards offshoring and a significant minority had moved or planned to move their custom away from firms which had switched work overseas.

Moving work to India saved up to 40% in operating costs, mainly because pay was only 10-15% of UK wages, the research found.

A spokesman for the DTI added: "We have been clear from the outset that this was a study into the specific issues and challenges concerning the UK call and contact centre industry."

"There is obviously a much wider issue of outsourcing which we have talked about on many occasions and will be covered in some depth in the forthcoming trade and investment White Paper," he added.

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