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How encouraging contact centres back onshore could create jobs

The federal Budget has been handed down and, unsurprisingly, job creation is front and centre of the government’s agenda for 2021-22. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced plans to invest $1.5 billion in a scheme to encourage businesses to hire apprentices and trainees. More mature Australians will be helped back into the workforce via free and low cost training courses delivered under the government’s extended JobTrainer program.

Meanwhile, there’s one industry – ours! – that has the potential to create hundreds and thousands of jobs off the bat, in regional towns and capital cities.

Local organisations began offshoring their contact centres in the 1990s, to destinations in the developing world where agents’ wages are a fraction of those commanded by their Australian counterparts. It’s a model that made economic sense – up until last year when the COVID crisis demonstrated its shortcomings. Lack of connectivity and infrastructure made it impossible for offshore agents to work from home, in many instances. That left businesses here in Australia high and dry, unable to communicate with their customers, at a challenging and uncertain time.

Some big businesses, including Westpac and Telstra, have taken the experience as a salutary lesson and announced plans to move their contact centres back onshore. In the process, they’ve created more than a thousand jobs apiece, for contact centre agents to answer the phones and monitor digital communication channels. Providing incentives for other companies to follow suit would make sound sense, for a government that’s serious about helping Australians move into regular employment.

Contact centre jobs are clean and green, they can be performed capably by individuals of all ages and, if a cloud-based contact centre platform is deployed, they can be performed from anywhere in the country that has a reasonable internet connection.

Yes, the wages bill will rise, but utilising the reporting and analytics features that are baked into many modern contact centre platforms can help organisations to optimise their operations and contain their costs, whilst maintaining high levels of service.

COVID has provided Australia with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shake up the status quo and create more opportunities for individuals who want to attain steady, reasonably paid jobs. Incentivising businesses to repatriate their contact centres could do just that – and enable local businesses to boost the quality and reliability of their customer service into the bargain.

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