Text: Anja Hulsenboom
The evolution of the contact center industry has resulted in a wide range of training courses and educational tracks for contact center professionals. It varies from short tailor made training sessions to longer standard courses with a broad range of subjects. Governmental approved courses are mainly focussed on operational jobs. In several countries however educational tracks for higher management positions have been developed too. In this article an overview.

Training and educational institutions in The Netherlands as well as in other countries offer both short  training courses and long term courses, both as a off the shelf and tailored. One could choose from a wide range of front-, mid- and backoffice functions. Subjects that are covered vary from knowledge, skills, behavior on all operational and management related activities that occur within the contact center environment. Some tracks are specifically designed for detailed knowledge on implementing applications like CRM, WFM or quality monitoring.

Often training is offered by means of tailor made education. In this case, the training institution will develop a training program based on the specific needs of the organization and the professionals that should be educated. Such a program can therefore focus on the needs of agents and supervisors or on supervisors and mid level management. These programs can be expanded with training and coaching on the job and sometimes train the trainer sessions are included.

An important advantage of tailor made training programs is the level of adaptation towards the organization  and the dedicated group within. Tailor made training gives the opportunity to reduce time and costs related to travel and stay, by providing the training sessions in house. More important is the direct relationship between the content of the training program and specific daily practice – which can be realized by using cases, examples, et cetera. This increases the transfer of knowledge and skills. The initial costs related to program set up might be slightly higher, but in terms of ROI evidence shows that tailor made programs are more effective and efficient which results in long term cost savings.

In the past few years the professional level of different contact center positions has been under fire. In The Netherlands, ECABO, the national agency of profession related education, has developed a system regarding vertical job positions within the contact center industry, including educational levels:

  • contact center employee: someone who is responsible for contact handling
  • team leader: manages a team of agents
  • supervisor: manages a group of team leaders
  • manager: manages a team of team leaders and/or supervisors including support functions
  • director: manages a group of managers

Acknowledged training programs

In The Netherlands a differentiation can be made into branch acknowledged programs, general programs that are acknowledged by the training institute and programs that are officially approved by the government and therefore are combined with officially acknowledged certificates and or diplomas.

In The Netherlands SECC and CITO both are responsible for certificates, but these certificates only cover the domain of the lowest job level, contact center employee.

The only educational program that officially is approved by government is also designed for contact center employees. The program, which can be provided on two initial levels, takes two years and is part of a professionalization program which combines both work and education at the same time. Institutions that want to offer these both levels, need to have governmental approval.

Advantages of approved programs

Besides advantages like optimal results and a improved labour climate, acknowledged programs for employees lead to certificates which are widely accepted within the contact center industry as well as in other sectors. Attrition rates are reduced because employees who follow a course generally strive to get final certificate. For employers it’s guaranteed that the professional levels of employees are controlled. Furthermore employers might make use of fiscal arrangements.

The European Social Fund (ESF) is supporting investments in education. ESF subsidizes up to 40 per cent of the investment that is needed. Requests can be done via the national educational agencies in each country, but one should take into account that a certain amount of time and effort is necessary to process a request. Conditions and regulations that should be met indicate that making use of ESF-arrangements are only feasible when a minimal number of employees is involved, starting with numbers of several hundreds of agents per year. Companies that would like to make use of ESF-arrangements should consider additional costs for advice. The ESF Equal program offers European programs for the enrollment of handicapped and unemployed people.

Higher education on managerial and executive level

On executive level educational programs are acknowledge exclusively by the education providers themselves. Master programs are offered by business schools as well as universities. The highest level of professional education is called European Master for Contact center Management. This program is designed specifically for contact center managers and company executives and is officially approved and accredited by FEDMA, the European Federation of Direct and Interactive Marketing Associations. This course is also offered by the Dutch Philipse Business School. Certificates are acknowledged in all European countries. The program covers two years and 60 European Credits, which is equivalent with 1680 hours of study time. In other European countries (France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom) FEDMA-accredited courses are available too.

Anja Hulsenboom is Business Director of Philipse Business School (http://www.philipsebusinessschool.com/)