Iomartís a net gain for the islands
Iomart Group plc is newly listed on the AIM Stock Market and now in the next phase of its development. To take the business forward, iomart has launched its latest recruitment drive. Here we take a look at the experience of recent recruit Donald Smith and former island exile, Kelly Jeffries who have changed career path and joined the IT evolution being spearheaded in the Isles by iomart.
Head Set for Hard Hat
Less than six months ago, Donald Smith was a foreman welder working in the oil fabrication industry.
Today, however, he has swapped his hard hat, safety boots and boiler suit for a job in the fastest growing sector of the UK economy the Internet.
Working at Iomart Group plc as a web customer service agent, Donald bucks the image most people have of the typical Net centre employee. Aged 43, Donald amply demonstrates that it is never too late to change career path.
"It was quite a daunting prospect, underlined especially on my first day when I appeared to be twice the age of any of the other new starts," recalls Donald. "But I soon realised there are quite a few out here in the Net Centre that arenít twenty or thirty somethings."
Since starting work at the Net Centre on the outskirts of Stornoway, Donald has found himself being frequently asked by friends and acquaintances what his new job entails.
"Itís not as complicated as most people imagine," says Donald. "The easiest way I find to describe my job as a web customer service agent is by saying that I mainly deal with people who have an Internet connection and are having problems with either their connection or their email, and that I also take calls dealing with domain name enquiries or web page problems.
"Itís also important to be a good listener, to be understanding and, at times, a bit of a social worker. You also have to be used to dealing directly with public and be able to deal quickly and efficiently with the customer."
Donald, of Bragar, reveals that he was initially wary of applying for an agent position, feeling that perhaps his level of computer knowledge was too limited.
"I now know that was not the case. Sure, in training it sometimes felt like information overload, but I believe there are plenty of people who have suitable qualifications but who have not applied because they have simply not considered a complete career change," he explains.
He stresses that those who missed out in the computer revolution at school should not rule themselves out. While there had been a lot to take in during the training phase, everything had fallen into place once he had gone solo on the headsets.
"The first few weeks on the headsets were a bit tense," he admits. "But now Iím really enjoying it here at Iomart. Everyone in the Net Centre is willing to help out; no one is ever too busy if you need help. Thereís a strong team spirit, everyone is willing to muck in whatever their position within the company.
"Iíve worked in quite a few places over the years and from what I have seen so far Iomart is a good employer and a forward looking company."
Of course, within an industry where change is so rapid, there is always a necessity to constantly keep abreast of the latest developments. But within Iomart Group plc there is a structure in place to ensure employees are offered the resources and support to develop and enhance their career prospects within what is a fast growing, leading edge company.
Islands Gain Exiles From Net
"I wanted to return home to Lewis for at least 18 months before I finally managed to do that," remarks Kelly. "I wasnít happy in Leeds for quite a while especially having a young family. I just never felt very safe."
Kelly Jeffries (22) is typical of the hundreds of islanders who for economic reasons have left the islands for work but retain a strong attachment to their native islands. She returned home to Lochs with her husband and baby son after living and working in Leeds for three years. They had grown tired of their urban existence and the ever-present crime threat.
This hankering to come "home" was finally answered thanks to a job opportunity at iomart group plc. She is now a web co-ordinator at iomartís Net Centre where she helps plan workloads for the companyís team of web consultants and handles customer service issues.
For Kelly it is a dream come true. She explains: "The island is a great place to bring up kids, and Iíve a good job in an excellent working environment. Some people thought we were crazy returning to Lewis and spending 40 minutes travelling to work from our home 28 miles outside Stornoway. But I point out that when we lived in Leeds it also took 40 minutes but I would be stuck in traffic and only had to travel three miles to work!"
Dozens more exiles are dotted around Scotland and the UK, and with the burgeoning of iomart there are many more opportunities in the offing. As well as seeking locally based staff, iomart are now targeting exiles itching for a chance to return to home soil.
For generations it has been a well-worn adage that the greatest export from the Western Isles has been its people. But, thanks to iomart, that human flood across the Minch may now be showing signs of slowing as a result of the Internet boom.
Less than a year ago, the iomart group plc Net Centre employed a core team of 12 people. Now there is over 80 staff, and by the end of this year it is expected this figure will rise to more than a hundred. The projection over the next two to five years is a total payroll in Stornoway of 200, making iomart group plc among the very largest of the private sector employers in the Western Isles.
Recruitment and training is ongoing, and iomart are continually on the look out for talented people who are motivated and committed to the ideal of 100 per cent customer satisfaction, 100 per cent of the time.
With no past history of call centres in the Western Isles, iomart are acutely aware of the need for a comprehensive programme of training for new employees. A two week induction course gives new recruits the vital skills and knowledge to slip into their new positions as customer service agents or website builders. From the moment they hit the Ďfloorí for hands-on experience, rookie agents are fully supported by their co-workers and team leaders to develop their talents and establish themselves in the three-month probation period.
During this time, the starting salary is £4.60 per hour. But on completion of the training and probation programme, rates increase to between £5 and £7 per hour, pay comparable to call centres anywhere else in the UK. And with the expected growth and expansion of the operation into a second business park unit, there will be plenty of chances for advancement within the company.
Housed in the state-of-the-art Net Centre building at Gleann Seileach Business Park, Stornoway, staff enjoy a modern, air-conditioned working environment in an attractive setting. Team spirit is strong there is a real buzz among staff at iomart group plc. It is a fast paced industry where change is rapid and new challenges are a daily occurrence.
With e-commerce and the Internet swiftly mushrooming, opportunities abound for the company. To help with the recruitment process, special efforts are being made to target island exiles that wish to return home but are only held back by the lack of suitable employment.