Londonderry is celebrating after US company Convergys Corporation announced over 300 jobs in the city — following a sales pitch from Prime Minister David Cameron.
While the majority of the jobs will be at entry level paying around £15,000, other management positions will be filled which pay up to £30,000 — boosting the north west’s economy by around £5m.
Convergys said the customer service centre in Springtown in the city will provide services for client mobile phone network EE — and all 333 positions will be filled within the next 12 months.
In February, EE announced it would be bringing over 1,000 customer service jobs back to the UK from overseas.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster revealed that the prime minister had met Convergys and EE during last year’s Northern Ireland Investment Conference to discuss the advantages of Northern Ireland as a cost-effective location.
She said: “It is welcome news that we have been able to turn those discussions into tangible results.”
Convergys chief commercial officer Mike Wooden said the company was impressed by the work ethic in Derry and its existing call centre credentials.
He added: “By combining our extensive experience supporting many of the world’s top telecommunications companies with the highly skilled and talented workforce in this region, we can create a delivery centre that will generate meaningful benefits for Convergys clients, and more importantly, extensive career opportunities for the local workforce.”
Invest NI has offered support of £1.5m on the basis that all the jobs are created within 12 months. Chief executive Alastair Hamilton said discussions began around 10 months ago, and the company was invited to visit Derry.
“When they came, they decided that not only was Northern Ireland a location for them, but they wanted to come to Londonderry,” he said.
While MLAs have previously accused Invest NI of favouring Belfast as a location for investment at the expense of Derry, there was agreement that the announcement was good news for the city. Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin said: “It is refreshing to hear good news on the jobs front for the north west and I look forward to the outworking of the benefits to the local economy.”
Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sinead McLaughlin described it as “a move in the right direction”.
She added: “We have sadly become the worst hotspot for unemployment not just in Northern Ireland, but in the whole of the UK. This is a title we would like to lose urgently.”
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said it was important to acknowledge Invest NI's role in securing the jobs for Derry.
He said EE had promised him they would look to the city. “True to their word, they followed up that interest and engaged positively with Invest NI,” he said.
A chequered history of call centres in city... but hopes high for US firm
BY CLARE WEIR
Call centre, contact centre, customer service centre — call them what you will, but Londonderry has seen its fair share of such establishments over the years.
Critics say that such employers depend on government funding and the whims of large multinational companies who will scythe a major contract if they can find a cheaper provider elsewhere.
There are also complaints that call centres flood the labour market with low-paying jobs — the average salary of entry-level EE workers will be around £15,000 per annum, although management positions will pay up to £30,000.
Stream — which serviced clients like Dell, BT, JVC and Vodafone — was a huge employer in the north west, employing more than 1,000 people in Derry before scaling down its operations in the city in 2011 after around 15 years.
However, there was anger in the city when it was announced that 1,000 jobs were created in east Belfast by the same firm last October.
The US-based company received government funding of £3.3m for the new venture.
And just last month Waterford-based Rigney Dolphin announced it was closing a call centre in
Patrick Street in Derry which opened in 2010, having only recruited a maximum of 90 out of a promised 300.
Among its clients are Meteor, BMW, Carphone Warehouse and Airtricity.
However, there have been success stories too — and it will be hoped that Convergys and EE will also prove to have staying power.
Indian firm Firstsource set up in the city back in 2006 and is now one of the city’s biggest employers.
Incentives for staff such as flexible working hours for students, parents and carers and internal training and promotion opportunities have helped scoop the company a number of awards.
Staff provide services to customers of companies in the banking and financial, telecoms and media and healthcare sectors.
The latest jobs are owing to a change in approach from EE, whose customers will be put in touch with the new Convergys centre when they ring customer service.
In February, EE boss Olaf Swantee said UK customer service is better than that of overseas contact centres.
Existing EE call centres in the Philippines and South Africa are to be scaled down as a result of EE’s new strategy but will still be used for simple transactions.