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College program stirs international interest.

Northern College has introduced a new program that will feed one of today's fastest growing industries.

The call centre service representative program is now into its second, full-time run at the Timmins-based institution, and instructor Carole Rondeau says the 10-week certificate program has so far maintained a 100-per cent retention rate.

The course is also being offered at Northern College's Porcupine campus and is being added to the Kirkland Lake campus as well.

"(The college) developed the program in anticipation of call centres being established in Northern Ontario," Rondeau says. "We developed the program over a year ago. We had 15 students at that time, and we graduated 15 students. We offered it in the part-time format last summer, and that's finishing up (now). We started offering the full-time program. again this past January. We're going to be offering the full-time program again starting on April 16."

Ontario's call centre industry is booming, and the demand for qualified agents to work at the centres is on the rise. The call centre service representative program has been designed to train individuals to work in a call centre - now being referred to by the industry as a customer interaction centre (CIC) - as a customer service representative.

The program also provides the training necessary for other jobs in consumer relations, Rondeau says.

"(Participants) take a course in customer relations and service, help-desk concepts, business communications, interpersonal relations and team building, call centre environment technology, and time/stress management.

"We're not just training for one particular type of CIC; we're training for inbound, outbound or blended customer interaction centres, and general customer service. So if a student wants to work in retail or a utility company or anything (customer service related), they have the skills to do that. They're customer service specialists."

Graduates of the program are qualified to work in marketing, order entry, billing agent and various supervisory and management positions because of the nature of the hands-on business skills training, she says.

"It's quite an extensive program," she says.

In addition to classroom instruction, students also have the option of completing a three-week co-perative work placement to put their newly-acquired skills to work.

"Last year we had students working with financial institutions, retail (stores) and the hospitallty industry," Rondeau says. "This year, unfortunately the call centre (in Timmins) isn't open yet, so placements aren't available at that call centre just yet."

She notes the program is not affiliated with the Timmins' new TeleTech call centre or any other customer interaction centre, and therefore graduates are not promised a position in any call centre at the conclusion of the program.

While other Ontario business schools are offering similar programs, Rondeau says Northern College's call centre service representative program is unique because the curriculum has been formatted to reflect the needs identified by the call centre industry.

"We've talked to employers at the call centres and based (the curriculum) on the employers' needs," Rondeau says. "We've developed our program from scratch and what's neat about our program is we have a lot of interaction. We use multimedia (applications) and the students are able to simulate work in a call centre so that it's not just lecture or theorybased.

"There are other (call centre training programs) out there, but Northern College didn't buy the curriculum from anybody or use any established curriculum. We started from scratch, based on employers' needs."

The result, she notes, is a program that has sparked interest not only across the region, but also from around the world.

"We've been contacted by international companies - actually a few in India - who are looking at establishing a partnership with Northern College to offer CIC training. They really like our curriculum; they like what we're doing."

Although no formal negotiations have taken place yet, Rondeau says the college continues to share information with these international companies so that they may initiate similar programs elsewhere in the world.

The program is offered full time or in part-time modular format. Courses can also be completed by audio conferencing; Full program details are available on Northern College's
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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