The Quality of Jobs and Mobility Opportunities for Customer Service and Sales Workers

Awarded Scholars:
Larry Hunter, The Wharton School of Business
Steffanie Wilk, The Wharton School of Business
Project Date:
Nov 1998
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work



Rosemary Batt of Cornell University, together with Larry Hunter and Steffanie Wilk of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, received a grant to undertake a case study of "call centers," established by telecommunications and computer software companies to make sales and provide customer services over the telephone. As the number of call centers has mushroomed, the structure of jobs within the sector has been entirely reshaped. Job requirements have become more varied, from low-skilled jobs administering routine transactions to highly-skilled jobs managing complex relationships with ongoing customers. As a consequence, what used to be a relatively homogeneous, in-house workforce has become stratified and, in some cases, externalized. Workers are differentiated by the skills and services they provide, and many jobs have been relocated to outside contractors. Batt, Hunter, and Wilk will attempt to explain whether the increased segmentation of the workforce is due to customized services, complex products, or the prevalence of outsourcing. They will then look at the implications of this job restructuring for the promotion opportunities of workers: if skills have become highly differentiated, then workers may get stuck in a niche, with no possibility of progressing up a career ladder. Alternatively, there may be scope for managers to provide training or job rotations that make it easier for workers to develop skills and advance their careers. Batt, Hunter, and Wilk will combine site visits to twenty-eight call centers with a systematic survey of over 2,000 of their employees. They plan to publish the results of their case study in a series of articles in industrial relations, management, and psychology journals. They will also undertake a monograph reviewing their research and its implications for policy.


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