If you meet a newcomer in Cork today, the appropriate question to ask is ‘Which call centre do you work for?’.
Call centres have sprouted all around Cork. Big soft-and hardware companies, hotel reservation companies, pharmaceuticals, you name it, they have descended on Cork with their call centres. Some call it customer service, some call it Medical Information Centre, in the end, they are all really call centres.
They buzz with newcomers from around the globe, especially Europe. When you walk around Cork now and listen to the people around you with your eyes closed, you might think you are in Brussels. There are thousands of Spanish, Italians, Germans, Russians, French, Dutch and any possible European language speakers living and working in Cork these days. Many of them are single, looking for adventure and who knows, romance while working in the very stressful environment which is the highly controlled and very American-style call centre.
Whether Cork and Ireland are really prepared for these workplaces is another question.
First of all, there seems to be some understanding between these companies and the Irish state that the key jobs have to go to the Irish employees first. ( Maybe a deal for low tax in return?)
The situation that then develops is quite ludicrous in many cases, and upsetting for many ambitious young Europeans, who often leave feeling undervalued and disappointed.
I was one of them.
I worked in a ‘medical information centre’, that’s how it was sold to me. It was, of course, just a call centre, be it of a slightly higher level than booking hotel rooms. Many of my co-workers were scientists with phDs, pharmacists and nurses, who had all bought into this idea of ‘medical information centre’.
I worked for the French Hub, which included Belgium, The Netherlands, France and Switzerland.
Here comes the part which just made no sense. My supervisor was Irish, nothing wrong with that, apart from the fact that she did not speak a word of French, leave alone Dutch. She had no knowledge of French, Dutch, Belgian or Swiss cultures, did not know anything about how people in these countries would react to certain situations.
What she was good at was managing phones, not much else. I could not understand this. Across the office from me the supervisor had to go. In that team there was a very intelligent and capable Portuguese man who, we all thought, would be perfect for the job, but they gave it to an Irish man, who did not havea clue. he was nice, but definitely not the level of his more deserving colleague.
The supervisor of the German Hub which covered Germany, Austria and Switzerland, was also Irish, and did not even know that Switzerland is not a part of the EU.
I left, and not much after me a German colleague left, both exhausted and very disappointed.
Secondly, there is a serious housing problem in Cork, the rent has soared, many of the call centre agents live in shared rooms or shared houses, and everyone wonders where the 1000 workers that Apple announced and the 400 future Voxpro workers will live? There is just no place for all these people. And what about the Irish families who are finding it harder and harder to pay the rent?
I predict trouble.