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A thriving North American call centre is poised to add 350 new jobs to its growing Nova Scotia workforce.
The province-wide expansion will be boosted by work-from-home positions after MCI successfully launched that initiative at its Sydney Call Centre in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to just send a message to the market that we are going to be in the work-at-home business forever,” said MCI CEO Anthony Marlowe
“It wasn’t just a temporary thing and we are no longer confined by the four walls of a location and our first step in Atlantic Canada is to take the opportunity to workers throughout all of Nova Scotia.”
Marlowe said the expansion was possible after ‘incredible success’ in Sydney and the business-friendly environment of Nova Scotia. It wasn’t always sunshine and roses, though, and initial spikes in 2020 employee attrition came with the onset of emergency procedures related to the pandemic.
“Initially, we had a setback, about 30 per cent of our staff was unable to work. They needed to care for their elders, care for their children, didn’t have the proper setup at home and a couple — three or four months — we were down, down on people, down on revenue.”
A scaled-up work-from-home model required a pivot to work-at-home technology from equipment they had inherited when they acquired the Servicom call centre. The old equipment, he said, was premise and not cloud-based, but all-nighters and seven-day weeks followed to get the company up to speed.
“It’s almost been a year. We’ve not only worked through it but we have recovered and then we have grown some and work at home has been successful — very similar levels of success in Nova Scotia as we have had in the US.”
Marlowe expects the ‘highly scalable model’ to continue to please employees and clients across Nova Scotia, as it has in the United States.
“It’s a self-install process,” he said. “People need to be able to plug into their modem with an internet cable. We’ve had to ship some long ones for some custom setups but nevertheless whether you brought home your desktop or whether we shipped you a laptop or you brought your own device with appropriate specifications, you are able to plug in and get connected.”
There are also 'processes and procedures and guidelines for security and configuration’ employees need to follow, too.
“We have employees that stretch the gambit of fresh into college who grew up on technology to nearing retirement age and had to learn technology as technology became available throughout our lives. Everyone has been able to pull it off. “
The Sydney Call Centre now employs almost 650 people between the Sydney site and work-from-home and another 100 remote employees across Sydney.
Initial estimates had 75 per cent of staff working from home but some have returned to a properly spaced working environment at the bricks and mortar Sydney location.
Expectations are that the additional 350 jobs planned for the province this year could be created in untapped markets on the mainland, including the Halifax area.
MCI has a particular interest in applicants from the Port Hawkesbury area due to the deep talent pool of representatives and the long-standing history of premium call centre work, according to Marlowe.
The call centre history of Port Hawkesbury once saw EDS Canada employing an estimated 500 people before operations were shuttered in 2006.
Minacs had also set up a call centre in Port Hawkesbury after EDS had closed shop. That one closed in 2012 after one year in operation.
American-based MCI first came to Cape Breton in 2018 when it acquired the failing Servicom call centre and renamed as the Sydney Call Centre.
Marlowe called outgoing Premier Stephen McNeil ‘instrumental in making MCI comfortable in making the investment in Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.’
He congratulated incoming Premier Iain Rankin on his new position and hopes to find a similar working relationship in the days ahead.
“We have seen stronger growth numbers recently in the US because a lot of states have been hiring MCI to answer their phones to assist with contact tracing or unemployment insurance, vaccine scheduling and state helplines and hotlines.”
Nova Scotia call centres could provide similar services to the province, he said.
Greg McNeil is a business reporter at the Cape Breton Post.