New campaign aims for 50,000 contact centre jobs in three years


theweeksubA new campaigning charity is hoping to find jobs for 50,000 disabled people in the contact centre industry within just three years.

The ContactAbility campaign wants to attract disabled people who have faced barriers in securing mainstream work.

The new charity says it wants to move away from the idea of “battery farm contact centres”, and convince disabled people they can develop a rewarding career in the industry.

In contrast with traditional call centres, filled with rows of telephone operators, contact centre staff can communicate with customers via social media, on live websites or via email.

It is this multi-media aspect – which provides opportunities for people with a range of impairments – as well as the possibility of flexible hours, and the chance to work from home, that ContactAbility believes will interest disabled people.

The campaign is set to launch next month, but already has backing from Disability Rights UK, Remploy, the CBI, and contact centre representative organisations, while patrons include David Clarke, who captained the ParalympicsGB blind football team at London 2012 and has a senior role with Clydesdale Bank.

Clarke, who will be inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame next month, said: “Fundamentally this is about behavioural change and increasing the number of disabled people in employment and therefore empowering disabled people.”

He said he thought the jobs would be particularly attractive to those with mobility issues who “want to work and feel part of a team environment”. He said the opportunity for career progression was “vital”, as was the flexibility in working hours.

He said he was interested in the campaign because he believed the jobs would require certain skills and abilities, with the possibility of “multiple roles” within the industry.

Clarke also said he was glad the campaign had set the “challenging” target of finding 50,000 jobs.

He added: “It’s about having aspirations. You have to think big to solve these problems.”

The campaign is hoping to enable jobs within existing contact centres, working from home, or at new outsourced contact centre “hubs” set up – probably by Remploy – in accessible locations across the country.

Andy Rickell, chief executive of Action on Disability and Work UK, pointed to Remploy’s involvement and the possibility of new contact centres staffed only by disabled people.

He warned that the new campaign would have to be careful to avoid “the old culture of non-disabled managers and disabled staff”, and that whether it could avoid creating another disability “ghetto” would depend on “how it is presented and delivered”.

He said the working environments created through the campaign could be ideal for some disabled people’s access needs and skills, although he cast doubt on whether the target of finding 50,000 jobs was achievable.

He said: “The crucial thing we need to avoid is the idea that this becomes the default. The problem with Remploy was that in the heads of UK plc it was somewhere disabled people could work so they didn’t have to employ them themselves.”

Nick Henderson, ContactAbility’s communications director and one of its trustees, said: “We are trying to use the word ‘careers’ rather than ‘jobs’. It is a people-orientated career and there are great opportunities for promotion. Your progress and success is very measurable. It can be really rewardable.”

Founder Ian Cox came up with the idea for ContactAbility last November, after attending a seminar on home-working.

He wanted to know how his company, Performance Telecom – which provides equipment to contact centres – could benefit from the growth in working from home.

Cox says he realised that disabled people were an “untapped” potential workforce for the industry, which employs more than one million people in the UK.

Henderson insisted that the new campaign was not connected to the government’s incapacity benefit reforms, and the push to force disabled people off out-of-work disability benefits.

He said: “This is definitely not a benefits argument about forcing anyone to work. This is purely for those who are seeking work but cannot find anything suitable.”

As well as matching potential disabled employees with possible future employers, the charity also hopes to provide information, accreditation and training to existing contact centre staff and managers, and to would-be employees.

Henderson says ContactAbility is already “actively in dialogue” with Virgin Media, G4S and BSkyB, about the possibility of them offering contact centre positions to disabled people.

He appealed to disabled people looking for work to register their details with the ContactAbility website.

Remploy has so far been unable to comment on the campaign.

15 August 2013