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Responding to Achill's call

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Some of the staff currently working at the Contact4 centre in Achill.
GOOD ATMOSPHERE Some of the staff currently working at the Contact4 centre in Achill.

Responding to Achill's call

Anton McNulty

THE Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides is not the first place you would think of going to on a fact-finding mission on Information Technology but in April 1999, an 18-man delegation team from Achill did exactly that and what they witnessed changed their outlook on the type of industry they would like to see at home.
The island, which is in the outer Hebrides, had a state-of-the-art internet infrastructure with a call centre. The majority of the houses had ISDN lines and over 200 residents were able to work from home on contract work with the call centre. Terence Dever, Manager of Comhlacht Forbartha Aitiúil Acla, who was a member of the delegation to the Isle of Lewis, explained that because of that visit they decided to try to get a call centre for Achill.
In 2002, after months lobbying Údarás na Gaeltachta, they were told Achill was to get a call centre. The information they received was that a Cork-born, Scottish-based entrepreneur called Pearse Flynn, who had a call centre based in Glasgow called Contact 4, was looking to add Achill as his third call centre in Ireland, having already had premises in Donegal and Kerry. Despite problems getting suitable communication infrastructure into Achill, Contact 4 opened its doors for operation last July.
The call centre which is based in the One-Stop shop in Achill Sound now employs 23 people on a full-time basis and 15 part-time staff, along with team managers. Contact 4 is an out-sourced contact centre and provides services to insurance, telecom and financial companies.
The manager of the Achill Centre of Contact 4, Mr James Dunlop, said they are very pleased with the progress the centre has made in Achill since it opened in July and the standard among the staff is very high. He said the company was very lucky with the retention rate of staff and feels this is one of the strong attractions of locating call centres in small communities. He noted that in large cities, where call centres can employ up to 700 people, a lot of time is taken up in training, as employees come and go on a regular basis, but in places like Achill the local people see the jobs as long-term ones.
Despite employing nearly 40 people of all ages, James feels the big challenge for Contact 4 in Achill in the coming months is getting more staff to cater for the increasing demand in work.
“The standard of the people we have in general is very high. We only started a few months ago and so far we are pleased with the people we have got, but we need more. The biggest challenge we have here is maintaining the numbers, we are very lucky that the attrition rate is very low, so the people we are getting in are very happy to stay here. We have about 46 desks which can be filled so we have room to expand further, and if we have the people coming through the door we will certainly have work for them. We have more work than people at the moment, which is a good thing, especially when you are looking to the future,” he explained.
While James and his team are generally looking for confident people to work on phones, he finds that once people start getting used to the job they gradually grow into their position. They usually start people on call surveys campaigns before moving them on to telesales where they can gain commission on the amount of sales they make in a week.
“A lot of centres are boring and a that’s a challenge from a management point of view, but the natural resource here is so positive and that is testament to the staff; they do not need a great deal of motivation. I’ve been to a number of call centres and it is very clear there is something missing and that something is motivation to work.”
Mary Boyle from Currane has been working in Contact 4 since it opened in July and, despite not working in a call centre before, she feels she is growing into it and is enjoying the work.
“I attended a call centre course about four years ago, so when the job came I went into it. It was a bit daunting at first but it is grand once you get into it. We had two days training and on the third day we went live and it has gone quite well since. It is a good laugh here, talking to each other between calls. It can be stressful if you take it to heart, but you have to take the good with the bad. I have recommended the job to other people and would continue to recommend it,” said Mary.
Terence Dever of CFAA believes the success of Contact 4 shows that these types of industries are what is needed in Achill and they are in negotiations with Údarás an Gaeltachta with a view to attracting another call centre to the island. He feels Contact 4 will be in Achill for a number of years and believes it will continue to provide the long-term employment for the community.