Dione King has a wealth of life and work experience to call on but until now, gaining a role in a contact centre seemed out of reach even for the bubbly self-described “people person.”
In previous careers, Dione has enjoyed many administrative roles. She has worked at Porirua City Council, Wellington Hospital, for kohangas and other organisations, and done some caregiving. But most recently, after 13 years of being a beneficiary with multiple health issues, she was struggling to gain meaningful work. Due to her medical condition, working as a caregiver - or any role that required lifting - was out of the mix, and she was daunted by the changes in technology, “I came from the manual typewriting era - before the backspace button!” Although she could see many jobs being advertised for contact centre staff, the prerequisites were intimidating, “Even with all of my experience, I was limited.”
Long-term unemployment had knocked her confidence, alongside unstable living arrangements. Two years ago, she was stabbed by her flatmate. Dione says, “When you turn 40 and you’re unemployed, you start feeling like you’re worthless, and it becomes a downward spiral. That’s where I had been – struggling and trying to keep myself out of that headspace.”
Last November, she was living in transitional housing when a Work & Income NZ representative suggested she attend an upcoming seminar that could lead to training. She jumped at the opportunity and through the seminar, met with Barb McGirr of Capital Training. Barb offered her a place on Capital Training’s Employment Preparation course especially for contact centre recruitment. Dione was “blown away” that a training course was even available for the sector that she wanted to work in, then was thrilled to be accepted onto the course.
The four-week Employment Preparation programme is funded by the Ministry of Social Development, for Work & Income clients. The course equips participants with work-ready skills and supports them into paid employment. Students gain insights into working in a contact centre and how to prepare for the interview process. Graduates of the programme are guided towards organisations that Capital Training has partnered with. Learners explore Customer Service, Conflict Management, Health and Safety, Computer Navigation and much more.
Dione had some apprehension about going back into education, but soon discovered the course offered even more than what she had been looking for, “It was a whirlwind four weeks, but it was great.”
She learned how to wear a phone headset, to set it up and make adjustments, “It was a real confidence- booster coming here. They showed us how to do it.” Communication was a strong component of the learning, “Coming across well, talking and explaining, the tone, the listening skills that go with it.” In a contact centre, staff need to be skilled in communication without the use of eye contact, body language or other tools usually used in human interactions. Dione explains, “You have to communicate through your voice. You’ve got to have ears, and you’ve got to have a mouth, and you’ve got to be very aware of how you use those things in combination. Not anybody can answer a phone.”
Within a short space of time, she was moving ahead, “By the end of the third week, I had the confidence from this course, to apply for jobs at Ministry contact centres. My confidence was such that I could apply to the Department of Internal Affairs, MSD, Ministry of Justice – that’s where I was aiming.”
Dione praises the Capital Training staff for their encouragement, “Jaxs, Leanne and Barb are just phenomenal. They went above and beyond in supporting us to make it through the course first of all, and then helping us to get interviews and get job placements; advocating for ‘dress for success’ and being able to wear a decent outfit to go to an interview - setting it up for us so that we could go to those appointments and feel good. You feel self-worth again. That’s what it has been for me.”
When it came to CV writing, Dione says Jax gave her the edge she needed, “Jaxs could be straight-up honest. That’s what I loved about her. With tweaks to my CV, I was getting job interviews in ministerial, government agencies. And I had been trying to create that for over twenty years. That’s why I love these guys and what they do. We need more training programmes like this.”
Now, Dione has a full-time role with StudyLink Contact Centre, and handles a wide spectrum of calls covering student hardship, loans and allowances, changes of addresses and bank accounts, tax codes, parental incomes and more. She is supported by the organisation’s 12-week on-job training. “It’s been a really good learning curve for me. I’m aware of the hardship of students – living off two-minute noodles for a whole week – but now I’m getting to deal with prisoners that are in study, solo parents that are in study, ones that are over 54. It’s not until you go into a job that you realise what you’ve learned at Capital Training, without even knowing it. Even just in the discussions we used to have there.”
For Dione, the work is rewarding especially when she can make a difference to someone else’s day. She recalled a recent request that she was able to resolve, “It was humbling. The humility the caller had, and the embarrassment they had, of ringing us for assistance. They started off crying because they were embarrassed that they needed help. We went over and above to try and help them and make things easy. When they hung up, they were crying because of the relief. Those are the genuine ones. And that’s what we are here for. This is what a lot of us want to do. This is why we applied for this job - to try and help students like that.”
Among her team of 12, two colleagues have also come through the Capital Training programme. Dione believes the learning they received at Capital Training “stands out” in the workplace, “I was just blessed that I came through Capital Training. You become very aware that you are carrying the pride of the training, so you put your best foot forward.” Dione has a 12-month contract with StudyLink and is hoping to secure a permanent position in time, “My landing a permanent role by February next year, that will be my final, ‘Here you go guys, I hope I’ve done you proud.’”
Looking ahead, Dione has a new lease on life, “Because of my medical conditions and the path that I’ve had for the past 10-13 years, things would not have looked good at all. My depression and my anxiety walked hand in hand with my medical conditions. Coming to Capital Training was my turning point. Doing the course, applying for the job, and getting the job…my health conditions have really improved. My Cardiologist is rapt. My depression and anxiety is pretty non-existent, because I’m back in the world of living. I’m back in a job that makes you feel worth it. I’m not struggling to find reasons to be on this planet. This course has been like a light at the end of the tunnel for me.”
Dione advises others like her to take up the training opportunities that are available, “You’ve just got to make that first step and get through the door. The Capital Training ladies are offering us an actual way out of where we are, and to get back on the right path. They remind us that this is a new beginning. This is a chance – you either grab it and run with it, or you end up doing nothing. I’m running as fast as I can and as hard as I can, away from that. I can’t thank these ladies enough.”
“I was in transitional housing, my health wasn’t good, my headspace wasn’t good. Within 12 months I’ve turned it around, and I’m really grateful for this course, because this is where I mark that my life changed and turned around. It has been a journey.”