Jobs cropping up on phone lines

Montana State Roundup

Published October 1, 1992  | October 1992 issue

In the hard red spring wheat capital of the world the newest jobs have nothing to do with planting, combining or overseas grain sales.

In northeastern Montana, near Scobey, you'll find, instead, six to 10 people working with the latest telecommunications technology in their homes, calling around the country on behalf of CIT Communications Inc.

CIT of Salt Lake City formed and joined forces a year ago with four independent telephone companies to provide a telemarketing service, mainly in the form of customer satisfaction surveys. Its clients include banks, insurance companies, telephone companies, anyone who wants to reach customers or potential customers by phone. And its employees are rural women who are supplementing their family's income in areas with few job opportunities.

Steve Olson, chairman of the board of CIT, says they were "looking for a high quality of worker." And they found the workforce literally in the field. In Montana, the six callers, or agents, and four alternates live in the heart of wheat country, separated by up to 175 miles. The Montana supervisor, Sam Moore, coordinates the job projects, sends them by modem to the agents in their homes and collects the survey data electronically. He then transmits the data to Utah, where CIT packages the results for its clients.

After a year of operation, Olson says, "We're not making a profit yet. We hope to break even by May of 1993."

The Montana agents, all rural women, work 20 hours a week in addition to their family and farm responsibilities. They log a total of about 2,000 calls a month. Each is equipped with a computer, modem and headset. The hours are flexible, and the average wage is around $5 an hour.

"I live on a farm and I don't have to drive to work," says Carol Hanrahan, an agent living near Whitetail. "I can quit and take a break anytime I want," she adds. Hanrahan also works on the farm with her husband, especially during the busy harvesting season.

In all there are 25 agents working through the phone company partners of Rockland Telephone, Idaho; Silver Star Telephone, Wyoming; South Central Utah Telephone, Utah; and Scobey's Nemont Telephone Cooperative. They act as switching and network centers.

Dave Billehus of Nemont explains that Nemont gets the benefit of increased "minutes of use" on the phone lines, as well as providing local jobs, which keep people in the area. While northeastern Montana does not statistically have a high unemployment rate, jobs are not easy to come by. The young men and women entering the market usually find jobs elsewhere, in cities or out of state.

Nettie Pignatello