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Demand cools for call-centre training

As call-centre jobs disappear to India, some colleges and training providers are feeling the pinch. But there is no sign yet of a dramatic collapse in demand for training.

Call centres are a core industry in the North-east, providing around 9,000 jobs in Wearside alone. Expansion has tailed off, but, said Steve Durham, head of computing and business at Sunderland College, there is no mass exodus towards cheap labour.

The college has had its own purpose-built training centre at Doxford international enterprise park since 1999, and trains an average of 2,000 staff annually. Major local employers include Barclays and EDF Energy.

"Any drop in enrolment is due to the slowdown in opening of new centres," said Mr Durham. "But in Sunderland, the industry is buoyant - we still see it as being a regional strength. Our view is that there will be further investment.

"We've a had a bit of a problem recruiting students where they've heard there's the possibility they may not get a job afterwards. Yet, our people have an employment rate close to 100 per cent."

However, a spokeswoman for nearby South Tyneside College in South Shields, said that demand for call-centre training there has fallen. "We are providing it on a short-course basis, though we did offer more in the past," she said.

Carolyn Lee, in charge of call-centre training at Pennywell, Sunderland, which trained around 470 operatives last year, said: "In the NewcastleSunderland area, we are expecting to lose 1,000 jobs in January and February. But centres aren't actually being shut down - usually it's small numbers of jobs going.

"It hasn't affected us because as some small centres move out, others expand. People being made redundant will be able to find work in those."

Despite some haemorrhaging of jobs to India, Walsall College intends to set up a call centre at Easter. "We've received funding from the Learning and Skills Council and would look to train 70 students a year, offering an NVQ," said tutor Claudette Smith.

"We plan to be in partnership with a local call centre, Home Service, which, rather than recruit from an agency, would recruit from us. We've become aware of problems in India where it turns out that a lot of staff are under-skilled, under-qualified and demanding more money."

However, Joyce Davies, in charge of the business college at Swansea College, has noticed a decline in the number of trainees. "The market has changed - many companies, such as NHS Direct and banks, are training people themselves," she said.

"A lot of our people were coming in at the pre-employment stage and we were getting them ready for jobs. We constantly watch the labour market to see what industry is being encouraged to come here."

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