A couple of years ago, international man of mystery, David Hawkins, conducted a series of focus groups with young people about what they thought of the ‘call centre’ industry as a career in New Brunswick. Most of the feedback he received was negative and invoked thoughts of people getting calls at supper about the latest credit card deal. When he actually told people what most New Brunswick call centre (or business support services) workers did for a living, most people seemed surprised.
Most New Brunswick workers in this industry are helping people solve problems: If they have a health issue or a problem with their computer; If they need to book a hotel or airline reservation; If their vehicle breaks down or if they need to file an insurance claim. There is very little outbound sales activity. In fact, one manager told me New Brunswickers aren’t particularly good at sales but they are good at helping people.
This week, the only employee of Contact NB was let go. Not enough funds to keep his position afloat. I can’t speak to the work of Contact NB or the individual employee but I can say I was surprised and a little frustrated to see the only organization involved in supporting this $1.4 billion export industry unable to maintain a single staff person.
I used to joke the business services industry should have its own government department. Why not? The industry generates more GDP and jobs than some industries that are included in government departmental names. Instead of a whole department, now I would be happy if just 2-3 people across the 400+ economic developers in New Brunswick are paying attention to this industry.
We are at a crossroads. Many of our business services providers got hit hard by Covid-19 (e.g. hotels, airlines, etc.). Now more than ever they are able to hire people who work from home. These people can live anywhere. The value proposition for a physical location in New Brunswick is waning.
I think we should double down on this industry. New Brunswick should be the help desk for North America. As the technology evolves, we evolve right along with it.
As work moves more to home-based environments, we should steer into the skid. How about a lucrative tax credit to help people build home offices? How about a relocation tax credit to encourage people to move here and bring their job with them? How about boosting related training at the colleges around New Brunswick? How about investing in related R&D?
The problem is the industry is essentially hidden. It doesn’t show up in the monthly export statistics. Much of the employment is sprinkled across multiple industries – finance, insurance, telecommunications, etc. so it is harder to track as a whole.
If you don’t care about this industry, what do you suggest we replace it with? If you suck $1.4 billion export revenue out of the economy and the thousands of jobs what comes next?
Every time I look around someone is trying to hire people in this sector – The Co-operators, Shopify, VidCruiter (an NB success story!) etc. If they can’t find the workers here, they will find them elsewhere. It’s that simple.
I believe we have a head start on the competition. We have a 25+ year track record. We should deliberately position New Brunswick (as ONB is with Shopify) as the best place in North America for this type of work. Then we should go out and attract people from around the world to come here to work the jobs.
Potential value proposition elements:
-Tax incentives to help people build home offices
-Tax incentives to help people relocate here to work in this industry
-Immigrant attraction targeted at this industry
-NBCC/CCNB training – generic and company specific – to train up talent for the industry
-Possibly some kind of telecom package for home-based workers (where is NBTel when you need it?)
-Support for employee ‘meet up’ spaces – e.g. if you have 200 home-based Twitter workers in New Brunswick, you still encourage them to meet up on a regular basis in a central location
-A team of public and private sector folks working to strengthen this value proposition and attract new companies to the cluster (i.e. to hire NB workers)
-A job board specifically targeted to this type of work – scour the Web for good home-based jobs and aggregate them in one place for NBers seeking work