I never expected to see in my 30th year in a call centre. If you’d have asked me where I’d have been now at the age of 18 I’d have pictured a job in middle-management somewhere with a comfortable salary, certainly enough to pay the mortgage on a nice suburban semi.
But here I am. And what’s worse it feels somehow wrong, like there’s a law that says you shouldn’t be in a call centre in your thirties, just like that quote which is widely reported to have been uttered by Margaret Thatcher that ‘any man seen riding on a bus after the age of 30 should consider himself a failure’
Of course the BBC3 show the call centre didn’t help with it’s emphasis on the call centre as being young, funky and just a little bit spunky. According to the voiceover on the episode which I viewed out of the ‘1 million call centre workers in the UK’ the average age is just 26.
But how true is this? The older I get the younger my colleagues seem to be, but I’ve also seen plenty of people older than me in the call centre and I have my suspicions about claims that the call centre is wholly a young persons environment.
According to the U.S Call Centre Industry 2004: National Benchmarking Report based upon a survey of General Managers from a representative sample of 470 establishments the young call centre is in fact something of a myth
Call center jobs are often viewed as low skilled and clerical, and the workforce is portrayed as young and unattached to the labor force. According to our survey, however, the age and education profile of call center workers is considerably higher. The typical call center worker in this survey is 30 years old and has one and a half years of college education.
However, in a post entitled Do call centres discriminate against older workers? The Call Centre Helper blog presents data from a 2008 YouGov survey of 946 call centre agents which found that 46% of call centre workers are aged under 30. By contrast just 10% were over 50
Whilst this means the median age of a call centre employee would be around thirty plotted in a chart it is quite apparent how the age-profile is skewed towards the younger end of the age range.
In terms of industry sector there is also some variation. Using Data from a 2004 DTI report the CFA Business Skills @ Work Contact Centre Labour Market Report 2012 presents a break down of average age by industry sector. The average age varies from 24 for Healthcare and Entertainment & Leisure to 31 for Utilities and 32 for the category Food & Drink.
Importantly, according the the CFA report, the DTI data distinguished between several different groups of employees:
In terms of identifying patterns, the DTI figures from 2000 draw on evidence from focus groups and site visits and further explanation illustrates that there were at that time several key groups of employees who were agents. The first of these groups was identified as young women under 30 who may not have higher educational qualifications but have significant length of service in the industry. Fewer young men are in that category. A second group is made up of returning workers and those looking for a new start after structural redundancy. This brings in a more mature group which raises the average age. A third group consisted of recent graduates or even students working part time who may not be seeing long term prospects in the industry.
Additionally there also seems to be some evidence that as the economy and demands of the industry change the average age of call centre workers is rising
Newer qualitative evidence is provided by consultation and research undertaken in 2009. Focus groups and site visits indicated that the average age of agents was probably rising as was the average level of qualifications. This came about partly from changing labour markets and partly from the tendency for contact centres to handle more relationship-based work than early call centre routines, many of which have now been automated. Consultees confirmed that their recruitment focuses on candidates with greater life experience and the ability to form a rapport and relationship with a wide variety of clients. Despite the lack of quantified data, this information is clearly relevant to the overview of age of the workforce.
In short there’s going to be a lot more of us turning thirty in the call centre.