Someone told me today that something like 40% of Moncton’s call centres are now using home agents to augment their workforce.  I have heard about a number of other companies that are now using workers from around the province.  Lexitech uses freelance translators from around the world.

We need to get a real handle on this.  Someone should hire a consultant (ahem) to try and get some formal numbers to see if this is a small trend or a big one.  I remember discussions back in the mid 1990s about using telecommunications to create an innovative model for urban/rural development.  New Brunswick is still one of the most rural provinces in Canada and there was some talk back then about instead of forcing urbanization we might be able to have a new model with urban hubs and distributed work to homes or pods in small communities.

Maybe it was a pipedream.  I see that as of the 2006 Census, we had less people (as a percentage of the workforce) working at home than the national average.

But something might now be brewing and it would be interesting to get some data on it.

14 thoughts on “Homework

  1. It’s great that these call center job opportunities are available, but do we really want to get people trapped into this sort of thing? I guess that there are some who will benefit greatly from these work from home jobs, but it doesn’t seem that they’s the jobs that are going to form the backbone of our economy or get NB on the knowledge based industry map.

    I’m interested in seeing what the Northern Development initiative which will be released in January has in store for us. They hinted at the modular fabrication ideas suggested by David and others, but it would be a little more comforting to know that this is something more than just political banter in an election year. I pray that there is some real substance to this initiative, because all we seem to have going for us in this province is the whole pipe dream of call centers and other low paying jobs.

  2. There are a couple of issues. One, for a certain segment of the population working from home makes sense and is desireable (there are dozens of occupations that could be done from home). Two, I am thinking more of how we migrate some of this knowledge work around New Brunswick. This could be small pod operations – like VAS but for a variety of work such as graphic design, computer programming, translation, etc. Instead of 500 people in a factory of cubicles, 12 smaller operations of 40 where people live connected by broadband.

  3. I agree with you on both points. I got the initial impression that you were talking strictly aout call centers. It would be great if numberous pods on KBIs existed throughout the province, but it seems as though companies have no real incentive to do so. I would seem to increase overhead and create unnecessary hassles. It would seem that you’d need a very altruistic company that is generally concerned about the wellbeing of NB as a whole.

    I don’t disagree with the merits of your suggestion, but I’m having trouble accepting that there are a lot of KBI companies interested in getting involved in this podular workplace movement.

  4. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be aiming to have more people working from home right now.

    I’ll give you a for instance based just on my family here in New Brunswick. We all live 20 – 45 mins outside the Fredericton city limits. In our cases, we are self-employed, which is slightly different from the model you’re thinking of, but the fact remains – we work from home because we can, thanks to the internet and the phone.

    – My major client is a small manufacturing company located between Fredericton & Moncton (1 hour away). I might meet with them once or twice a month (a Tim Hortons in Fredericton serves as our office when we need to meet). I don’t have to drive in crappy weather (or any weather for that matter) so I save on gas/wear & tear, lunches, etc.

    – My partner’s main client is in Toronto. She also has a project with partners in New Hampshire, and Yorkshire (UK).

    – I have two sisters who work for their clients from their homes.

    – A sister-in-law operates her consulting firm from home and is currently working on a national health care project.

    – A brother-in-law works from his home (even before he became a victim of last fall’s economic bomb).

    – My nephew and his wife have just sold their home in Toronto and are moving to New Brunswick next month. He’s an automotive journalist and she is an analaytics consultant. Her major client is in Chicago. Both advised their clients of their planned move – it didn’t matter to them because they can work from anywhere.

    That’s just my family.

    I’ve heard of companies in urban centres that are able to decrease their office costs by encouraging those that can and want to work from home to do so. They rent shared space for meeting rooms when necessary. These office “oases” also provide reception/secretarial services as required for small businesses.

    I bet many people that go to the office to work on a computer all day could do the the exact same thing from home and be more productive doing it. There are all kinds of side benefits – environmental, quality of life, cost savings, etc.

    This would be a “green” initiative that benefits everyone. Too bad the government (and some businesses) are still living in the past.

  5. There’s an American airline, JetBlue, who employ stay-at-home in Utah as contact agents. The women are paid on a per-call basis, and are able to come-and-go from their computer as they please to deal with their children.

  6. The most practical ‘model’ for working from home are those who are self employed, like the above. As we’ve discussed before, writers, journalists, programmers, etc., can work from anywhere, and there are lots of others. But the biggest obstacle to all of that is once again-education. Although in the past we’ve heard complaints that the governments agenda for ‘high speed internet everywhere’ is just pandering to the population. Without high speed internet those jobs aren’t impossible, but just more difficult, which means people look elsewhere. What public policies the government should be taking here is the relevant question-taxes have already been lowered.

  7. Working from home in New Brunswick could be a win-win situation; employers who have tapped out the workforce in the urban centers can get access to a new pool of candidates and rural communities can keep their residents.

    This can also be part of the solution for the north. However, while Moncton has welcomed the contact center jobs that pay $12-15 per hour, my observation is the north is not ready to accept these jobs. They are clinging to the $25 per hour starting wages offered at ‘the mill’ and expect the government to replace those jobs.

    Moncton sunk to crisis levels before people gave up on the fantasy of a re-birth of the CN Shops jobs and begin to welcome the jobs, and pay, of the new service-based economy. Moncton also shook the union-mentality that scared off some employers.

    I think the north has another step or two in the grieving process before they get to where Moncton was 20 years ago. I appreciate where they are coming from; it is tough to give up a good thing but until they let go of the past, they won’t be able to build their future.

  8. I think you are way off base anonymous. People in Northern New Brunswick would happily accept those $12-$15 dollar jobs you speak.

    Moncton’s impressive turn around did not come without incredible government assistance to establish the call center industry.

    To think that people in Northern New Brunswick are holding out for bigger paying jobs is just plan myth. Fact is the quality call center’s that pay those lofty $12/hr jobs never make there way north.

  9. I sincerely hope you are correct Paul. I am aware of at least one unsuccessful recruitment attempt in the region; hopefully this was an isolated incident and not representative of reality.

    And I totally agree that government support is needed; however, I also beleive that the direction and leadership has to be established by the local community. It is not adequate to sing the blues and look for more money. Community leaders have to take ownership of the problem, develop effective strategy then direct the government support to help execute their strategy. If I were them, I’d be telling them to keep their hockey rink, golf course and pothole money and invest it in whatever job creation target they have; David talks about data centers, maybe that is the way to go.

  10. @Anonymous

    Do you think the recruitment failed because of payscale? I am sure there it is difficult finding people with a level of education required for many of those jobs (e.g.. a bank call centre) and your experience was not isolated. Anyone with an education is either working, (many for the government), or living elsewhere. Where those call centers have great success is where there are education institutions. CCNB, Universite de Moncton, Oultons business college, etc, etc.

    I wonder what level of education was required in the recruitment drive you know of? There is no doubt that much of the work force here does not have much after High school. That’s because to further your education you have to leave. If you can’t afford to leave, and many can’t, then you stay here.

    Young people interested in the trades that are Anglophone leave the area too, while the Community College has an ever-expanding francophone curriculum, which is good. But many move away to work.

    The skilled workers from the “Mill” are already working for those bigger bucks, except they are traveling. David estimated in his Northern New Brunswick ED plan that there could be 6000 people from the north commuting out west or the far north.

    Many are industrial workers, which give David’s recommendation to have an industrial corridor in the region some of its logic, or at least that’s how I see it. There are some very skilled trades people in and from Northern New Brunswick, but after the mine closes, which anchors many of those trades right now, the world is going to change up here.

    “This can also be part of the solution for the north. However, while Moncton has welcomed the contact center jobs that pay $12-15 per hour, my observation is the north is not ready to accept these jobs. They are clinging to the $25 per hour starting wages offered at ‘the mill’ and expect the government to replace those jobs.”

    I think this is where I take umbrage. This perpetuates a myth that their are a bunch of lazy people up north sitting around, drinking beer and waiting for $25.00/hr jobs. It’s just not that way and until people in the south take a closer look at the real issues, instead of seeing what they want to see, the problem will get worse and the north will only become a bigger burden than people seem to think it already is. The population is aging before my eyes, and school enrollment is in decline.

    “If I were them, I’d be telling them to keep their hockey rink, golf course and pothole money and invest it in whatever job creation target they have;”

    We’ll take our pothole money, thank you very much, or infrastructure is as important as any other in the province, and we’ll take whatever job creation target investment too.

    “However, I also beleive that the direction and leadership has to be established by the local community. It is not adequate to sing the blues and look for more money. Community leaders have to take ownership of the problem, develop effective strategy then direct the government support to help execute their strategy.”

    I will call David in on this one, but I have seen no lack of desire, leadership or interest from the business community. I have watched them spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies and direction and focus….and watched launch after stupid launch. Normally what’s missing is government commitment at the end of the day.

    Proposals from the north never sell well in the south, it’s normally seen as something else going to the whiners in the north and so governments have often turned a deaf ear to requests of the business community.

    We are hopeful that having a department of BNB located in the north will improve that. I have some concerns, but will keep an open mind, but as David also said in his report that southern New Brunswick has to understand that the province will not succeed unless the north succeeds.

    The North has its strengths and some opportunities, but please stop perpetuating the same myths about the workforce. It’s like blaming people because the resource economy disappeared before their eyes.

  11. My point is not to perpetuate any of the myths about people people not wanting to work or too lazy to work. My point is that there will be continual disappointment if the expectations are that someone from Fredericton, or Ottawa will ride into town and solve all the problems facing the area (if anyone in the north feels BNB are doing great things for the south, that is another myth!). They’ll come to town and take the photo op in front of the new hockey rink, attend some golf tournaments and awards banquets, make a few speeches and that is about all you can expect. Hockey rinks will create a few construction jobs and make the community a nicer place to live, but they won’t have much of a sustainable contribution to improving the economy. I’d like to see focus on a sector or niche opportunity where, with some assistance, there is the potential for growth and a proposerous economy.

    If you don’t like the Moncton example, look at Summerside PEI. When the air base closed there, people were prepared to remove Summerside from the map. Now their economy is booming (although the recession has had a negative impact). This is not because anyone from Charlottetown or Ottawa led the effort. Leadership from the local community, including the mayor himself, led the efforts to focus on what became Slemon Park, an area that has attracted multi-national companies, exports $300 million annually and employs 850 people (see: http://www.gov.pe.ca/news/getrelease.php3?number=641 ) Did Ottawa and the province help? Yes, but it was Summerside who provoked the strategy, broke down myths, created a postitive atmosphere and provided the community leadership for the turnaround. My point is, money alone will not produce results, there needs to be effective community leadership to accomplish a meaningful impact to the economy.

  12. One Problem to telecommunications/call centre jobs in rural areas. Internet Access! The Graham government promised 90% internet access to rural areas. Which perhaps they have met. However, they chose Xplornet Satellite and Wi-Fi to do it. When I worked in the call centre industry I was offered to work from home – one catch – I needed to have access to Bell/Aliant high speed DSL. So, I’m 45 mins. from Moncton, 20 mins. from Sussex but I only have high speed access to the far inferior Xplornet Satellite High Speed. No working from home for me and many many others.

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