A new course developed at Ashcroft International Business School (formerly Anglia Business School) is the first to enable call centre workers to obtain a Masters degree in call centre management. Deve ...

A new course developed at Ashcroft International Business School (formerly Anglia Business School) is the first to enable call centre workers to obtain a Masters degree in call centre management. Developed with the assistance of call centre training and software specialist, Callscan, the course is
validated by Anglia Polytechnic University.

The introduction of the course reflects the growing importance and sophistication of the call centre. One in every 50 workers in the UK is employed in a call centre, with the number continuing to grow. And there is evidence that companies are beginning to place a greater value on their call centres and their employees. A recent survey shows that managers of the UK's larger call centres (with more than 500 staff) have seen their salaries rise by more than 20% during the last year to an average £71,586.

Call centres themselves have matured immensely in recent years, incorporating new technology and handling email, web and interactive TV-based customer contact as well as telephone. Along with these changes comes the need for new skills to manage these integrated call centres and this was a key driver for introducing the course.

But the growth in skills required to work effectively in a call centre also necessitates call centres to retain their workers for longer. Traditionally staff retention has been a problem in the industry - the TUC estimates 20% of agents employed in call centres will leave within a year of starting their job.

Long-term career option
All these issues - the increasing importance of call centres, their growing sophistication and the high staff turnover rates - combine to make the introduction of call centre qualifications such as the MSc vital. Increased training and staff development can help turn working in a call centre into a longer-term career option, which in turn will help attract more able staff.

Until this year, there was no high-level academic course aimed at progressing call centre managers' career needs. The highest level of professional qualification available for call centre industry workers was an NVQ. The Masters degree was created to enable call centre managers to go a step further in developing their knowledge and careers.

Course director Graham Hart says: "The course model is taken from the MSc in General Management. The Msc in Call Centre Management is taught as a three-year course, starting with a one-week residential induction programme. This provides the support and initial course guidance the students will need for their term of study. Experienced students who can demonstrate existing competencies, experience and learning are eligible for some exemptions."

The major part of the programme will be delivered via the internet, using a managed learning environment. This was considered more suitable, as call centres are so geographically diverse in their locations.

Students will be supported by a sophisticated closed academic conferencing facility with one-to-one support available by email and telephone. They will be expected to solve work-related problems through liaison with their tutors.

Entry onto the course does not require formal qualifications, but experience in the industry is essential. The course is strong in accrediting prior experience and learning. Senior people can enter with advanced credit by completing a portfolio of evidence. The evidence needs to highlight the skills they have learned mapped against the course-learning outcomes.

Options to specialise
The modular structure enables students to work through a variety of subject areas, but all students will take Concepts and Management Issues (CTI) and Computer Science and Telephony Convergence as core subjects.

Students will have the option to specialise as technical supervisors or in the areas of project management and human resources.

Over the three years, there are three break points: year one, post-graduate certificate; year two, post-graduate diploma; and year three, MSc. These allow students to achieve academic qualifications after one year of study.

The first applicants joined the course in July and there will be another chance to enter the course in October. The second cohort is scheduled to start in February 2002.

One of the students is Neville Doughty, who leads a team of 11 at Ventura, a customer service outsourcing company. He has worked in the call centre industry for three years.

Too good to miss out on
Doughty says: "I decided to start the MSc because I wanted to gain a formal qualification in what is a real growth industry for the future. I was coming towards the end of my HNC in business management and wanted to carry on my studies, but do something more call centre-specific.

"The MSc course was too good an opportunity to miss - a new course in a growing industry that did not require me to have a degree. The course content seemed very interesting and well balanced. Also, the modular nature of the course means I am given the flexibility to drop off and come back onto the course if I have a change in circumstance," he says.

"This is the first time I've studied a call centre-related course and also the first time I have taken a distance learning course. I've had to develop the discipline required to log into the `learning zone'."

From what may initially have been introduced as a cost-saving measure in many companies, call centres are fast becoming an essential. They play a major role in the way companies interact with their customers - not just by phone, but by the growing number of new media.

And the call centre industry is getting wise to the fact that staff are their greatest asset - they need to develop and retain them and give them an attractive career structure. Part of this is about giving them formal qualifications that identify and benchmark their attainment. There is an increasing need for the call centre Masters degree and other courses like it.

  • Sarah Johnson is with Callscan. Further course information can be found on the Ashcroft International Business School website at www.aibs.apu.ac.uk/cic/cic.htm.