Skill shortages ahead as industry shifts to soft skills

Which industry is already facing significant skills shortages and is heading towards an even more dire future as the nature of work changes?

Skill shortages ahead as industry shifts to soft skills

The majority of contact centre managers (over 60%) are expecting a shortage of skilled staff in the next few years, a report from FuturePeople has found.

The industry is known for its high turnover, with 100,000 vacancies a year. Some managers (25%) are already facing skill shortages in their organisation.

The skill shortage appears to come about from a change in the nature of the work. FuturePeople’s report, Looking to the future: The 2013 Contact Centre Trend, Salary and Leadership, detailed the shift in contact centre from a gap-year gig to a customer engagement-driven profession.

Many contact centre managers indicated that customers wish to be served by more knowledgeable agents (54%), as well as expecting to go through fewer contacts to resolve a problem (58%). They also seek more channels of interaction (54%). This presents a yearning to become more engaged, with managers stating that 70% of customers base their decisions on emotional factors, but only 20% feel fully engaged.

“This survey indicates that contact centre roles are becoming more complex, without a doubt,” Linda Simonsen, CEO of FuturePeople, said. “But it also bears out that we will increasingly need to develop the emotional intelligence of our agents.”

To combat this, managers and leaders in the industry are moving towards increasing the ‘soft skills’ of their employee-base. Eighty-seven per cent of managers feel that emotional intelligence is the key to generating long-term, highly skilled contact centre staff.

Developing these skills is a long-term prospect, which is hindered by the industry’s traditionally high turnover rates. Geoffrey Court, head of people and culture at Salmat, told HC how he has helped motivate and engage the call centre employees at his organisation.

“Sure, it can be repetitious work,” he said. “But we don’t have any reason for not seeing it as quite a noble profession, and we certainly want people to be respected and understand exactly how important their job is.”

Court stated his aim is to create a constructive environment that allows staff to understand the value of their work and their contribution to the organisation as a whole, as well as to individual clients. However, he did acknowledge that high turnover is an inevitability of the industry.

“A lot of that is due to the nature of the people who apply for work here – students aren’t always going to be students, people who are travelling aren’t always going to be travelling … inevitably people are here for short periods,” he explained.

Simonsen, however, hinted that HR should look at other qualities when hiring contact centre staff to break the back of the turnover culture.

“While it’s important to note that multi-channel skills and soft skills like emotional intelligence can in fact be taught, meaning existing staff can learn these new skills, of course it would also be ideal if we could attract and retain people who are naturally high in emotional intelligence and multi-channel skills,” she said.

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