Small contact centre, big outcomes
Student Job Search Aotearoa’s Wellington-based contact centre punches well above its weight – connecting student candidates with potential employers.
Student Job Search Aotearoa has a Wellington-based contact centre that’s punching well above its weight – connecting student candidates with potential employers.
As first year students at tertiary education facilities settle into their first term of lectures, thousands are seeking employment to help support them through their studies.
For many, the first step is registering with Student Job Search Aotearoa (SJS) – with the organisation’s Wellington-based contact centre then working to match candidates with employers.
SJS is justifiably proud of the record of the 30-strong call centre team. It placed over 16,500 students into jobs during the 2016-17 financial year – but it’s still a minnow compared to many other organisations.
Despite its modest staff numbers, it consistently performs well in employer/employee student satisfaction surveys and when ranked against larger call centre organisations.
That included being a finalist in the Customers Support Services Category of the most recent CRM Contact Centre Awards, ‘the Oscars of the contact centre industry’.
“The feedback from our annual employer/student satisfaction survey, carried out by Colmar Brunton, is consistently well over 80 percent. We’re very proud of the calibre of the service,” says SJS chief executive Tim Allen (pictured).
SJS’s role, since its launch 35 years ago, has been two-fold: To help students financially and to help them prepare for work as they transition through their studies.
“We achieve that by making connections between potential employers, and New Zealand’s future talent,” says Allen.
“Those employers range from major businesses, through SMEs, to individuals. The model for most jobseeker sites is that the employer pays to list the vacancy and the applicant contacts them directly. Our model is that we screen the employers and applicants and act as an intermediary. “It’s a robust service with no charge to the employer and free to students of education establishments which are members of SJS – and it’s all carried out by our contact centre team.
“Once a vacancy is posted, interested students will contact our centre and we’ll assess whether they are a suitable fit. If they are, we’ll put them in touch with the employer, who ultimately makes the hiring decisions.”
Neil McGuinness, manager of the Wellington-based contact centre, says the key to its success is in recruiting team members with the right personal skills – and previous experience is not required.
“We don’t focus on previous call centre experience,” says McGuinness. “Our entire ethos as an organisation is to help students find work, so we typically hire students or recent graduates.
“Top of our list are communication, people skills and problem-solving and decision-making ability. People are going to be able to get talking with someone very quickly and understand what they need. If they can interact and communicate with people and make good decisions, that’s everything we need.
“Because we employ students and graduates, we accept people won’t stay long – around a year is the average – and we’ve built that into our system. We have balanced the turnover with an approach to training which is thorough but not too long or onerous. We get people up to speed fast and there’s lots of on-the-job learning. That approach allows us to provide exceptional service while still getting through a high volume of calls – at our busiest point, in November, we might be handling up to 800 calls in a day.”
In a way, employee churn is a positive. “We see the job as providing our team members with a launch pad, an opportunity to build their own soft skills and transferable skills. Helping students to find jobs, get experience and progress in their careers is why we exist. That, and the great work culture we have, is why I’m still here. I started off in the contact centre on a fixed-term summer contract seven years ago and have stayed, through various roles. It’s great to see people come in, grow and develop and then move on, ready to get stuck into the next stage of their career.
“Our team members are really motivated and committed to what they are doing, because they are students or recent students and they are working for a charity and helping students into jobs – they are excited about giving back.”
Training starts with a week of ‘off the phone’ training, focused on learning to liaise with student clients.
“They then go on-phone, doing that for two or three weeks,” says McGuinness. “Then there will be some more off-the-phone training time, including role-playing, to prepare them for working with employers.
“It’s about communicating with businesses at a professional level. That ‘employer’ range is vast. We are dealing with householders, often elderly people who want odd jobs done, through to large businesses looking for full-time graduates who have finished studies. Our team need to be versatile, around mixing and matching and changing style. The service varies depending on the employer. For a big business there is likely to be more depth of discussion.”
Team leaders provide ongoing support and refresher training for contact centre staff, and there’s a strong focus on staff participation.
“We make sure we involve our people in everything we do,” says McGuinness. “For instance, if we are implementing new processes or strategic development we know we have a team of intelligent students or recent graduates who are keen to use and builds skills, so we invite some of the call centre team to join the project team. We try to foster a very open environment where everyone is able to put their ideas forward and contribute.”