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More people than ever before work in call centres in the UK

Posted on Mar 11 2011
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More people than ever before work in call centres in the UK but are they the modern-day equivalents of the factory production line?
 
The chimney of the India Mill factory in Darwen, Lancashire, still stands today. When it was built in 1867, it was the tallest and the most expensive in the country but its shadow now falls over office space rather than the industrial machinery it used to.
 
This is a scene that has become increasingly common across the UK as the service industry expands across what William Blake once described as this "green and pleasant land". At the same time, the manufacturing industry has contracted sharply.
 
Immediately after World War II, manufacturing accounted for around 40% of the UK economy's output but now only 8% of jobs are in the manufacturing sector, according to the Office for National Statistics.
 
At the same time, the rise of the call centre - known in the industry as contact centres - has seemed unstoppable.
 
'Toilet monitor'
"More people have worked in call centres than ever worked in the mining industry, and I researched that in 1998," says Matt Thorne, who wrote a novel based on his experiences in a call centre.
 
"The interesting thing about call centres is they're great if you've got something else but it's like a proper job without any of the benefits.
 
Continue reading the main story
In pictures...
 
 
Sitcoms and the British at work
"You got four 15-minute breaks in a day and the amount of time you spent in toilets actually was monitored."
 
Over one million people are employed in contact centres, according to analysis firm ContactBabel. This is over 3.5% of the entire UK workforce.
 
When call centre pioneer Direct Line opened its lines in Croydon, south London, with 63 employees on 2 April 1985, no-one could have imagined the impact it would have on the UK's service industry. In 2004 it received over 22 million phone calls.
 
But many just see them as a nuisance. Time and time again, call centres have been voted one of the most frustrating things to use, with one survey even concluding that calling one is more stressful than getting married or going to the dentist.
 
"They were predominantly set up as a way for companies to save money - whether the customers liked it or not," says Ann-Marie Stagg - chairwoman of the Contact Centre Managers' Association.
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