Atelka calls on government to strengthen connections

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By Adam Brazeau

CORNWALL, Ontario - With recent subsidy cuts for training new employees, Atelka management is calling on local politicians to build public-private partnerships with area call centres and the Eastern Ontario Training Board.

Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell speaks to members of Atelka call centre. Pictured are Rafika Mesli, Atelka vice-president of human resources, Niki Palmer, site director, Ashvin Ramdin, human resources manager, and Georges Karan, CEO.

Within a year, Atelka call centre has more than doubled its staff, employing 170 members of the community. The doors of the Cornwall location opened in March 2013 with 70 employees. They earned accolades for actively contributing to community growth at this year’s Cornwall & Area Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards. Atelka won Business of the Year 2013.

But cancelling the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit for three call centre positions, a restriction on the Youth Employment Fund subsidy in Cornwall, and a lack of bilingual job candidates in the area are causing undue hardships, according to Ashvin Ramdin, human resources manager at Atelka.

Representatives of Atelka, Cornwall's second leading call centre employer, visited SDSG MPP Jim McDonell's office on Friday for a special meeting, after McDonell's representative Marilyn McMahon and MP Guy Lauzon toured their facility.

"There's a lack of programs that can help us train," explained Ramdin. "The fact that the minimum wage and training costs are going up, means government subsidies are very important."

As of April 1, three call centre jobs (technical support agent, inside sales agent, and customer care agent) were removed from Ontario’s Training Apprenticeship Tax Credit.

This means Atelka can no longer claim a refundable tax credit for up to $10,000 a year per apprenticeship.

In addition, Ramdin noted that unlike Sarnia, Ontario, Cornwall is heavily restricted in their access of Ontario’s Youth Employment Fund.

Atelka also looked to cut red tape from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). The call centre’s six-week, 207-hour in-house training includes four tests and a final. The Management team says this should alleviate the requirement for apprentices to take two MTCU exemption tests.

He asked the MPP to help them unite all the HR managers at the city's six call centres: Amsterdam Products (55 employees), Atelka (170), Beautyrock (98), @liveconx (13), Scotiabank Call Centre (40), and Service Canada Call Centre (177).

“Getting all the HRs together will be helpful. We compete on economic grounds but when it comes to human relations we don’t,” he said.

Ramdin noted that cuts to incentive programs or unnecessary red tape could be lessened if Cornwall call centres unite with federal and provincial levels of government, as well as the Eastern Ontario Training Board (EOTB).

"From my experience what matters is there must be a synergy between the public-private sector," he said.

All six area call centres have bilingual requirements. Ramdin proposed to McDonell that French language courses be made available for local residents, and St. Lawrence College put more emphasis on the French language.

McDonell said he would bring these issue to the attention of the government, and contact Denis Thibault, executive director for the EOTB, to help align a strategic partnership with local call centres.

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