Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gleaner: 'Father' of N.B. call centre industry proud of record

'Father' of N.B. call centre industry proud of record

Published Thursday October 9th, 2008

Former premier Frank McKenna says he's proud to see the call centre industry provide jobs to thousands of New Brunswickers more than 15 years after he first lured one to the province.

With 17 per cent unemployment in the early 1990s, jobs were needed, he told a packed audience at the Delta Fredericton Hotel.

Contact Atlantic, a regional conference on the call centre industry, was held Wednesday in the capital.

McKenna, who was greeted as the "father" of the New Brunswick industry, said he remembers the criticism well when he first brought 50 call centre jobs to New Brunswick.

"They said that these were just big companies looking for a government handout and that they and their jobs would be gone in no time."

But 15 years later there are more than 21,000 New Brunswickers employed in the industry, which is injecting more than $1 billion into the provincial economy.

"I think we did a pretty good job," McKenna told the crowd.

Mike Bacon, executive director of ContactNB, the industry association that represents the province's 90-plus contact centres, said he remembers hearing the same thing when he started in the industry 14 years ago at Xerox.

"People called them McJobs. That was the perception. But now you have people who have worked in the industry for 14 or 15 years, who have had great careers. And guess what? Those companies are still here," Bacon said.

There are plenty of people working in the Fredericton area for contact centres such as Marriott, Delta, UPS, Avis-Budget and President's Choice, he said.

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne said he wants to build on that success and increase the presence of companies that are already here by having them consider more operations such as back-office processing.

"We have a proven track record here, businesses are very satisfied and they recognize our strengths: a loyal workforce, low-turnover, telecommunications infrastructure, widespread broadband access and a bilingual workforce," Byrne said.

Employers have told him that they have their lowest employee turnover in New Brunswick, where the average employee tends to stay for eight years.

McKenna said he's heard the same thing and he knows the province is well regarded by businesses that have chosen to establish here.

"The only reason it went anywhere was because we delivered on value," he said, noting how the hard work and commitment of workers are what made the sector a success.

It was a salesman's job convincing people at first, he said.

"Everyone got caught up in the idea that we could pull ourselves up," he said.

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