Quality counting in Borders

It's been a challenging few weeks on the jobs front, but we've just had some excellent and uplifting news.

Customer service company Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) has announced it is to add 150 new jobs to the 200 it has already created at its call centre in Selkirk. The firm is particularly keen to open its doors to young people and to provide real opportunities for career progression.

This expansion follows growth at highly-rated independent power supplier Spark Energy, also based in Selkirk, which now employs more than 300 staff.

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These positive developments are a useful reminder that despite recent job losses at places like Hawick Knitwear and Burgons of Eyemouth, we have real skills here which employers are keen to use.

In the 21st century, innovation is key, and one thing which gives us a real edge over competitors is that we’ve recognised that markets are changing and we’re adapting to that.

Take the knitwear sector, for instance.

Traditionally, this is a huge area of strength for us, and global consumers are now demanding low-volume, high-quality luxury products such as cashmere.

When I attended the recent economic summit in Hawick, local industry leaders impressed on me that they’ve recognised this reality and adapted their business models to suit. They’ve become more efficient and embraced the technological change needed to secure their futures – though we all need to acknowledge that this means they’ll require fewer staff than previously.

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These new industries and ways of working will drive our economy going forward. I know people have historically been suspicious about the quality of call centre jobs, but that’s changed too.

Before I became an MP, I worked in technology and dealt with some of the biggest contact centres in the United Kingdom.

It’s one reason why I remain a trustee of Citizens’ Advice Direct, a Scottish call centre for people needing help and information.

I’ve seen the demand grow for highly-skilled people who interact with customers in a number of different ways – phone, internet, social media – and often provide highly-specialised and sometimes sensitive information. It’s a long way from the chicken-coop, sweat-shop image that the call centre sector used to have.

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Companies like Spark and HGS are examples of high-quality, high-value operations, treating their staff well and offering them personal development. They’re using the skills, the enthusiasm and the warmth of the Borders people they employ to help build their businesses and to create a better and more profitable environment for everyone.

Yes, we’ve had our jobs issues locally, and we’re facing up to those. But rather than doing ourselves down and reflecting on the past, we’re carving a space for ourselves in the innovative, globalised and often quality-led trading environment in which we all live today.

It’s the right way forward – and it’ll bring us the benefits we need and deserve.