A recent survey by ContactBabel, the call centre industry analysts, finds that the North of England and Scotland would be hit hardest by call centre job exports to India. The report, ‘UK Contact Centres in 2003’ finds that the UK call centre industry as a whole presently employs over 790,000 people in 4,300 call centres: 2.83 per cent of the employed population. Although the South-East has the greatest number of call centre jobs with over 152,000 people working in call centres (around 3 per cent of the employed population), it is in the North of England and Scotland where such jobs are most vital.
In the North-East, over 4.3 per cent of the employed population (some 47,500 people) are employed within call centres. In the North-West, the figure is 4.26 per cent (almost 130,000 jobs). Other Northern regions, such as Scotland (over 3.9 per cent of employed population, and 93,000 jobs) and Yorkshire (4 per cent and over 93,000 jobs) are also heavily reliant on the call centre industry.
The North and Scotland were the areas most hit by the closure of mines, shipyards and heavy industry through the 1980s and 1990s. Even today, such regions are struggling to keep their industrial base active, and the massive numbers of new jobs that the call centre sector brings have kept numerous communities alive.
The threat that exporting call centre jobs to India would be felt most in these regions, where alternative employment is much less available than in the South. With several high profile employers, such as BT, Aviva and HSBC having opened or announced major India call centre operations, the shadow of mass unemployment hangs over these regions once again.
However, there are serious questions over whether the Indian call centre industry is capable of replacing UK operations. Serious issues over culture clash and accent comprehension remain, and the Indian industry is suffering from very high levels of staff turnover (40-50 per cent per year is not uncommon) as well as a lack of experienced management.
The rising unpopularity of job exports amongst UK consumers will also be a factor that businesses should seriously consider before closing UK call centres to open new ones in India.
The UK’s future lies in greatly improving the quality of service offered to customers, through empowering call centre agents to do their job to the best of their ability, as well as improving the training offered to them.
In fact, the UK call centre industry is presently in a very healthy state, with 31 per cent of the 3,300 contact centres interviewed having grown noticeably in the past 12 months, with only 5 per cent having reduced staff numbers.
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