Industry Research : Skillnet Ireland Says Commitment to Learning Can Save Call Centre Jobs
Automaton, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning future are changing the working lives of people in contact centres quicker than any other sector. The good news is that Skillnet Ireland is working closely with businesses to keep Irish customer experience (CX) ahead of the curve.
Ireland is currently home to around 60,000 CX workers.
Staff in these centres are adapting to the way the customer now wants to communicate. Young people offer perhaps the best insight into the future of CX. Where once being a "chatty" Irish person was a distinct advantage, most young people now prefer to webchat their business, often via a familiar app, rather than having to log onto a company’s homepage.
But will the change of platform from speech to text change the nature of communication? And how many of the current numbers of CX roles in Ireland? In other words, will robots take our jobs?
A lot of these questions are covered in a new Skillnet Ireland report. The research, led by the ICBE (Irish Centre for Business Excellence) Advanced Productivity Skillnet in partnership with the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School in the University of Limerick, involved 32 in-depth leader interviews and 11 focus groups with 58 CX employees in two large multinational corporations, one in financial services, the other in Information Communications Technology (ICT).
"Well, being ‘chatty’ won’t work, it is definitely insufficient," said Tracey Donnery, executive director, Skillnet Ireland. "What the CX roles require is dexterity, people with critical thinking, an ability to solve problems, people who than think on their feet.
"Our report gives the example of a CX worker on a conference call, dealing with people all over the world. You might have to deal with different cultures and languages, and be ready to react when you see an issue escalating. We refer to this as the ‘future’ of CX, but of course it’s already here.
"Robots, bots and AI are replacing human tasks, but not necessarily replacing humans. CX roles are changing, but there is still a strong need for human skills. Irish people are highly skilled and we are working to ensure Ireland remains a centre of excellence for CX.
Skillnet partners with enterprise and with third level colleges to develop a range of sectoral training programmes that constantly top up the skill set of the Irish workforce, CX among others.
The ICT Skillnet advised on the new Masters in AI offered by UL, DCU and NUIG. DCU also offers masters programmes in Blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT). Similarly, the Retail Ireland Skillnet has developed training in online trading.
Skillnet Ireland also partners with key stakeholders to develop programmes in manufacturing, farming, animation and design etc. Today’s topic, however, is CX, a sector whose evolving skillset has relevance for virtually every other sector of industry.
One EU study estimates that digital skills will be essential in over 90% of future jobs. Ireland is in sixth place on the 2018 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), up from eight place in 2017, and behind Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The same report places Ireland third in terms of the digitisation of business, just behind Denmark and Finland.
Nonetheless, the ‘Digital Transformation’ study of Ireland’s workplace, commissioned by the Government and conducted by the National Skills Council and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, estimates that Ireland could lose up to 46,000 jobs from the adoption of digital technologies in the next five years.
"That is a true read of the risks facing the workforce," said Tracey Donnery. "That is why our research is so important, because lifelong learning is our best weapon to protect jobs. We cannot afford to stand still.
"While some Irish sectors have the digital skills they need, others don’t. Our lifelong learning is not as good as some other countries. We need to develop the right level of digitalisation, and the CX sector is a good example of this.
"That is why, in 2018, we introduced funding to research our shared understanding of the role of learning in the future of work, to provide evidence-based insights into developing innovative and targeted programmes. The goal is to impact positively on the employability of the Irish workforce through lifelong learning."
The ICBE’s report identified how digital transformation has impacted the skill set required of Cx employees of the future. Dexterity is defined as a sharpness of mind, or skill, in thinking creatively, and understanding and expressing information/ideas, quickly and easily, moving swiftly and smoothly between tasks.
The report recommends that Human Resource Management in organisations need to work with the organisation’s leaders to continue to develop new approaches to designing jobs, develop real-time learning opportunities and create positive work environments where CX employees can thrive and apply dexterity to their skills.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister of State for Trade, Employment and Business, Pat Breen, said: "Innovation and digitisation are key to Ireland’s continued economic success. This study is extremely valuable in identifying the key skills needed to equip Cx workers for the evolving and new roles that digitisation brings. An openness to upskilling and lifelong learning will help companies and employees to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that the digital world offers. It is vital, therefore, that companies avail of upskilling programmes, such as those offered by Skillnet Ireland, to ensure they future-proof their business and their workforce."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, July 3, 2019