David Harper, chairman of Glasgow-based Go-centric, believes that the sector has a positive future that can drive recovery. He points to work underway to retrain people who have lost their jobs, the growth of online business and projects being carried out to help isolated, vulnerable people.
His upbeat assessment comes amid fears the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown and physical distancing measures could negatively impact a call centre industry that employs an estimated 100,000 people in Scotland.
It follows a recent outbreak centred on the Sitel contact centre in Lanarkshire, where, ironically, staff were helping to trace contacts of positive Covid-19 cases for NHS England. Earlier this month, NHS Lanarkshire authorised the re-opening of the Sitel site after carrying out a risk assessment.
Harper said: “There has been much discussion about what a post-coronavirus economy will look like in Scotland. I believe contact centres can lead the charge of economic recovery and will play a crucial role in this country’s future. What sceptics sometimes fail to realise is the sheer scale of functions that are provided by our sector.
"We bring people together from a range of different backgrounds, we’re dedicated to helping the long-term unemployed get back into the workplace, and we retrain those whose industries have suffered the most during this pandemic. The contact centre sector employs tens of thousands of people across the country and Covid-19 won’t be the end of this sector; it will be the making of it.”
He said functions provided by contact centres, such as “live chat” facilities on the websites of major firms, showed the industry was diversifying. His company is assisting businesses which are used to dealing in traditional face-to-face environments but have been forced to completely move their operation online or face extinction.
It is also working with housing associations as a point of contact for tenants, often providing a lifeline for vulnerable individuals. And with more people shopping online and accessing vital services from behind a computer screen or smartphone, Harper said there was an opportunity for the thousands employed by contact centres north of the Border to become “ambassadors” for a range of household brands.
Go-centric has enabled all staff to work from home, and when its Glasgow office re-opens it will introduce a range of safety measures, including reviewing staff schedules to stagger working hours.
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