With local call centers setting goals to hire hundreds of new employees this year and a new company entering the market, competition for employees with communication skills is increasing.
Existing call centers TeleTech Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: TTEC) and Corporate Technologies Advantage LLC, are expanding, while Jacksonville, Florida-based One Call Care Management plans to add a call center in Springfield with hundreds of employees. Those in the industry say the activity puts a pinch on an already tight labor field.
One Call, a provider of workers’ compensation care management services, announced June 28 the selection of Springfield for its newest office. With operations already in New Jersey, California and Florida, One Call plans to open by late summer in the 65,000-square-foot 1930 W. Bennett St. building formerly occupied by UnitedHealthcare.
“We are going to have about 100 people hired in the next few months, with the ultimate goal of adding to that number significantly here in Springfield. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the 400- to 500-range over the next couple of years,” said Steve Frey, One Call’s director of talent acquisition, who held hiring events July 18-19 at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s office.
The market already employs at least 6,360 in the call banks and back offices among the eight largest centers in Springfield, according to chamber data. Chase Card Services leads the pack with 1,450 associates, followed by TeleTech’s 1,050 employees. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), also among the top in town, announced July 20 it plans to hire at least 90 in its downtown Springfield call center – adding to the 230 already working the phones there.
Expansions and frustrations
TeleTech, which operates a call center at 1720 E. Primrose St., plans to add a satellite office in Springfield at an undisclosed location. The new facility would expand the capacity of calls TeleTech can handle for its current health care industry clients.
Olivia Griner, director of public relations and analyst relations for Englewood, Colorado-based TeleTech, said the availability of property, as well as the quality of workers, played a factor in the decision to add a Springfield office, as opposed to the many other cities the 35-year-old company works in.
“We’re looking to recruit about 300 new individuals for a variety of roles specific to the Springfield market before the end of the year,” she said.
TeleTech is no stranger to hiring for call centers. It operates 82 centers, in 23 countries, on six continents. But the demand for qualified workers may be higher than the supply.
“Hiring enough of the right people, to fit into the currently available roles, has been challenging,” Griner said. “The current global-economic climate really makes this a job-seekers’ market.
“And so from our perspective that means that job seekers have many choices on which employer and which company culture they find to be the right fit.”
Those in the industry say finding people who want to work on phones all day can be difficult and turnover is high.
“It’s not going well. It’s pretty tough out there honestly,” said Jesse Cross, a trainer and hiring manager for ProTel Systems and Supplies Inc.
The company currently employs 70 staff members – 45 on the phones – to provide customer service for businesses including AT&T and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL). The quantity and quality of workers has affected how many contracts ProTel can take on.
“We did scale down because the people that we had weren’t showing up and weren’t doing their job basically. We just got ride of 10 to 15 people,” Cross said.
At a recent three-hour hiring event ProTel hosted at the Missouri Job Center-Ozark Region, only three applicants showed up. Additionally, nine of the last 14 interviews he scheduled did not show up.
“It seems like we go through this every couple years – scale down, and get back to the basics, and then build up from there,” he said, noting he’d begin hiring again in about 30 days.
Unemployment in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area was 3.6 percent in May according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, and some Springfield call centers – depending on their industry – are fighting for the same recruits.
“The pool of workers to draw from is somewhat limited,” said Dennis Wiggins, business services supervisor for the Springfield Department of Workforce Development’s Missouri Job Center-Ozark Region. “So you have to really think outside of the box on how you’re going to attract people to work with an organization. You’ve got to cast a really wide net to recruit and you have to be actively involved in that process.”
Friends and family
TeleTech advertises job openings, but Griner said existing employees are the best recruiters.
“Because new employees that are coming to us from a referral typically already have a sense of the job and our company culture,” she said. “And the bonus is that they already have sort of a support network available to them there at work.”
Employee referrals are king at Gold Mountain Communications LLC, too. Serving clients in the vacation industry, the company uses online job board postings, campus recruiting events and radio and TV advertising, said Project Coordinator Amy Temple.
“Our number one sources of new hires, in the eight years that we have been open, has always been referrals,” she said of the 500 current employees.
“I think it says a lot about our business and keeping employees happy. So we, at all times, offer money on your paycheck for your referrals and have referral contests cycling through every couple months or so.”
ProTel offers a $100 bonus for employee referrals, Cross said.
Wiggins at the career center said creative strategies are necessary.
“The days of just posting a job, and people applying, and you choose who you want – those days are gone and probably will never return,” Wiggins said. “You have to be very proactive in the recruiting process – everyone in every industry.”
Getting outside help
This summer the career center helped five local call centers draw applicants.
ProTel and Bass Pro Shops had events at the career center, while Corporate Technologies Advantage, TeleTech and Gold Mountain invited the center’s mobile unit to their parking lots.
“It’s really impressive,” Temple said. “They have 12 different computer stations inside. They have a couple of their staff members dedicated to be here however long we need it. They help us promote the event. They do a press release for it.”
Gold Mountain utilizes the mobile unit annually – in combination with live radio broadcasts and a free barbecue – and attends multi-industry hiring events held by the career center four times per year.
CTA moved its 10-year-old call center to a new, larger location June 18 that can house 180 telemarketers at once, but officials hope to increase the clientele and grow employment to nearly 500 part-time employees, working at various times during a 24-hour schedule.
One Call’s Frey already has completed 100 interviews and will begin training the first 35 people in August, with another 60-70 beginning by September. Job openings are posted online, and Frey said he is preparing radio and print advertising spots.
Another positive for call centers is access to Springfield’s university population.
“It’s a skilled workforce that is really functioning and proficient around communication,” TeleTech’s Griner said.
Wiggins said most call centers offer flexible schedules that are attractive to candidates.
“The world in which we live these days lends itself to people wanting to work not just Monday through Friday 8 to 5 anymore,” he said.
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