Sign up to BQ Breakfast to receive daily news:

Calling time on bad maths

Wednesday 12 December 2012 5:00

One of the North East's major call centre operators has uncovered and responded to a serious flaw among the region's jobseekers.

The North East has long been a hotbed for call centres thanks to what surveys suggest are friendly, trustworthy accents as well as our abundance of available labour.

But one bluechip firm has found a flaw to setting up a contact centre in these parts. Utilities group npower says numeracy skills are seriously lacking among its job applicants here and has been forced to take evasive action.

The company says job applicants to its Sunderland centre tend to “excel in all assessment areas other than their maths ability”.

So concerned is the gas and electricity supplier that it has joined forces with the City Council and the University of Sunderland to help find a solution.

Gillian Tarelli, npower's resource and talent manager, is working closely with Sunderland’s council and university to hold a series of numeracy awareness courses to help ‘build jobseekers’ confidence and competence when working with numbers’, a skill that npower says is vital to its success.

The joint initiative is designed to help more local people into jobs at npower’s contact centres at Rainton Bridge, Houghton-le-Spring and Peterlee.

Any recent applicants to npower roles, who have been unsuccessful because of their numerical ability, can now reapply immediately and take advantage of the newly-launched additional support which aims to improve knowledge of complex terminology and increase confidence when working in a customer focussed contact centre.

The training and assessment is provided by the University of Sunderland, with support from the business investment team at Sunderland City Council.

Councillor Mel Speding, cabinet secretary of Sunderland City Council, said: “In Sunderland we have a contact centre industry we are very proud of, which offers opportunities to thousands of local people. Working alongside npower, we are committed to helping more people to improve their skills and confidence, so they are able to find positions and careers within the sector.

“This project is an excellent example of the City Council, university and business all coming together to help provide support and job opportunities for people in Sunderland and the North East.”

Dr Felicity Breet, associate dean in the Faculty of Education and Society at the University of Sunderland, said: “This project is about confidence building as well as competence building in working with numbers. In a contact centre role, there is the need to work at speed and under pressure, which are important factors in addition to getting the maths right.

“We have been very pleased to be involved in this initiative. At the university, it is part of our mission to offer a ‘life changing experience,’ and what better way to help change people’s lives than help them find employment.”