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Helping People with Disabilities Join the Contact Center Workforce

wheelchair contact center workerWe invited Kate Brouse from NTI@Home to share about her nonprofit, which makes a unique contribution to the contact center industry.

 When Erin Blunt and Jack Sands founded a call center company in 2000 to handle membership and emergency roadside service calls for AAA, they envisioned a business model using at-home agents long before COVID-19 made the at-home model popular. At the time, the entrepreneurs couldn’t find enough agents locally who wanted to work from home.

A colleague told Blunt that NTI@Home could help solve her staffing problems, and she contacted the organization. NTI is a national nonprofit that helps disabled Americans and veterans find at-home jobs. While the nonprofit is headquartered in downtown Boston, they have a core staff of remote employees distributed across the United States. Founded in 1995, NTI is one of the pioneers in the telecommuting industry.

NTI@Home offers free contact center training to disabled Americans who want or need to work from home, and helps them find jobs with employer-partners. The organization provides job coaches to all registrants and teaches skills like organization, time management, and how to set up a home office with the right technology required for a remote call center job.

Partnering with NTI@Home provided Blunt access to a nationwide group of Americans with disabilities who are happy to work from home.

“About 95% of my current agents, maybe even more, are sourced through NTI,” Blunt said. “Their agents perform as well as or better than any others I’ve used, and their attrition is lower.”

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic meant a lot changed in the type and number of calls Blunt’s agents were making and receiving. Plans that were in place pre-COVID had to be changed. She says NTI@Home gave her needed flexibility.

“Within about an hour they had helped us change course and source the kind of agents we needed to answer the calls we were getting,” she said.

NTI@Home offers free training to any disabled American who wants to work at home as a contact center agent. This year, for the organization’s 25th anniversary, in January, the organization expanded to include family caretakers of the disabled.

Lashaunda Garner has severe PTSD and anxiety, conditions that have made it difficult to find a job.

“There are certain sounds, certain smells and things that trigger my depression, and when I am at home, I can limit those things,” she explained.

After 16 years of not working, Garner found a job at the beginning of the pandemic through NTI@Home. The organization has seen a huge increase in the number of people taking advantage of their free training and then finding jobs. Alan Hubbard, Chief Operating Officer, notes that the pandemic has actually opened up more opportunity for disabled Americans to find at-home jobs, as companies were forced to move their workers to a remote work model nearly overnight.

“The people we serve tend to be highly-trained,” said Hubbard. “We attract people who would normally be overqualified...who are eager to get back to work,” he said. “Veterans, nurses, teachers, store managers, even programmers—a disability can happen to anyone.”

Another NTI@Home employer-partner, Midwest retail-giant Meijer, has benefited from a partnership dating back to 2005. The company has a strong commitment to foster inclusion among its workforce and the communities it serves. Meijer officials say the working relationship with NTI@Home aligns with this commitment, and helps the company deliver strong customer service.

“Meijer has enjoyed a very strong and positive relationship with NTI,” said Karen Brush, Meijer Vice President of Store Support. “These team members handle both basic and escalated customer emails and calls on Meijer’s behalf on par or better than their peers.”

Given that COVID-19 is going to continue to be a threat for the foreseeable future, and that staying home is the best way to stay safe, NTI@Home is hoping to help as many people as they can find work.