Shaw expands staff to 500 at Uptown call centre in Saanich

A week ago, Donna Henschell relocated to Victoria from Kelowna to become one of almost 500 workers in Shaw Communications’ new call centre at Uptown.

“I look at this as a huge opportunity for my career,” Henschell, 54, said Thursday. After 15 years with Shaw in Kelowna, she jumped at a promotion to supervisor, overseeing a group of 20 staff.

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Henschell is among 30 Shaw employees who moved to the capital region after the telecommunications, television and Internet company announced in February it was restructuring its call centres in Canada. A total of 123 company employees have relocated to new locations.

The move brings Henschell back to the city where she was born. She left at age two but is making new memories by touring the region, visiting the Fairmont Empress and admiring the view from Dallas Road.

“I feel very lucky, very blessed.”

When Henschell and her semi-retired husband sell their home in Kelowna, the plan is to buy another house in the capital region. In the meantime, she is renting.

Shaw has expanded an existing call centre in the capital region, which had 150 staff, and is moving into 31,500 square feet of space at Uptown.

Conversations with customers create a low hum throughout the space, on the second floor of the clock-tower building. By the end of July, the company aims to have about 500 employees on the call centre payroll.

Shaw has expanded over four decades and bought other cable systems, each with their own call centre, Chris Kucharski, senior vice-president of the consumer division, said Thursday.

It was time to realign those centres to reflect Shaw’s current operations and plan for the future, he said.

Shaw already has about 600 employees working in Greater Victoria on other duties, he said.

Each call centre specializes in two or three disciplines, he said.

The centre at Uptown is focusing on “loyalty care.” That means retaining customers, as well as billing and payment solutions, said Sarah Miller Wright, Shaw’s vice-president of customer-care operations.

Front-line workers, who deal with customers, earn from $31,000 to $45,000 annually, Miller Wright said. About 80 per cent are full time and 20 per cent part time.

Greater Victoria’s call centre includes 30 supervisors, two managers and one director, along with the agents who speak with customers and support staff, Kucharski said.

Shaw has about 150,000 customer accounts in Greater Victoria. All of Shaw’s call centres are located in communities served by the company, he said.

Like the call centre it houses, Uptown is bringing new jobs to the capital region. Heavy machinery is now at work on the north end of the Saanich complex to prepare the site for a new Whole Foods Market due to open next year. Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent in April, up from five per cent in March.

A Central Saanich call centre employing 248 people closed in 2008. In that case, the parent company was headquartered in the U.S. and moved operations south of the border. At the time, it was difficult to hire and retain staff and the increasing value of the loonie against the U.S. dollar created an financial model that wasn’t sustainable.

The Canada Contact Centre Association, which represents the country’s call centres, states on its website that its members employ more than one million Canadians, making it one of the largest employer sectors in the country.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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