Idaho’s telephone call center jobs have helped urban areas and their surrounding towns train, sometimes re-train and gainfully employ their local workforce.
Telephone call centers have developed a concentration in Idaho, employ 9,300 workers and inhabit every region in Idaho except for one, north-central Idaho near Lewiston. Despite the lower-than-average wages, these centers also provide entry-level employment that benefits local communities and surrounding areas.
Telephone call centers tend to locate in Idaho’s urban areas because of the need for larger pools of workers and accessible commercial air service.
Based on the location-quotient, Idaho ranks second behind Utah among its regional neighbors for the concentration of call centers. The comparative concentration of workers is commonly referred to as the location quotient. Anything higher than ‘1’ indicates a greater concentration of jobs in that industry than the nation’s. Idaho’s LQ is 3.02 while Utah is 3.38. Surrounding states such as Montana, Wyoming and Nevada either have a different concentration of industries, or their job base as a whole is too large for call centers to achieve a high level of concentration. Washington and Oregon have a large industry base and are too diverse to report such concentrations.
Statewide, the call center location quotient is highest in Kootenai County estimated by EMSI at 7.10 — considerably greater than the nation at ‘1.’
Other counties with significant call center employment include Bannock County at 5.06 LQ, Twin Falls County at 5.46 LQ, Ada County at 4.95 LQ, Bonneville County at 1.93 LQ, and Madison County at 1.83 LQ.
In Madison County, Rexburg’s Brigham Young University-Idaho markets a treasure chest of multilingual students available to work part-time and full-time jobs. Many southern Idaho industries that hire customer service representatives find it difficult to fill bilingual positions emphasizing Spanish because of the high demand for these services. This is part of a national trend due to the growing Hispanic population.
EMSI also indicates the average call center workers are generally:
- more likely to be female, estimated at 54 percent.
- young. An estimated 58 percent are 34 years and younger.
- White, non-Hispanic, comprising 90 percent of this industry. Ten percent of these workers are of Hispanic ethnicity while Idaho’s population is 12 percent
Southwestern Idaho has the largest employment base of telephone call centers at close to 5,000 workers according to 2015 preliminarily employment data. In 2014, the workforce was about 20 percent larger, partially due to sign-up for the state’s Affordable Care Act. The peak of hiring is reflected in Chart 2, showing year-over-year change.
Wages are considered low in telephone call centers with the average wage at $30,294 in Idaho compared with the average wage for all jobs estimated at $37,193 annually in Idaho.
Idaho call center wages are 26 percent lower than the national average for the industry of $38,061.
The average wage for the call center industry in southwestern Idaho is considerably higher than the overall state at $34,928 according to EMSI with the lowest average wage regionally in eastern Idaho at $22,739. It makes sense that this lower wage is attributable to part-time hours. Enrollment has grown at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg since 2001 when it expanded from two-year Rick’s College; wages began to decline as well. Part-time employment is an enticement to many students and because Idaho employers do not report their hours, the wage appears low. The change is reflected in the post-recessionary loss of 15 percent in wages in eastern Idaho as shown in the following table.
The industry as a whole appeals to many young people who enjoy technology and need a job that does not require a lot of preparation. In a state still shifting from an economy based on natural resources, it is reassuring to know there are jobs for younger workers to develop soft skills and assist financially as they pay for college.
Call centers also offer jobs for mature workers who have proven customer service skills, a strong work ethic and who need part-time employment to supplement fixed incomes. Call centers for large companies can offer a lucrative and rewarding career ladder to mid-level employees that excel in this environment. Those climbing the ladder must have myriad abilities including training and motivating other employees that look to them for leadership.
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639