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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Training supervisor Nick Stoyer oversees a training exercise at the HomeServe Chattanooga Contact Center on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. HomeServe, which held a Halloween costume party on Friday, is seeking to fill up to 150 more jobs by January.

Nearly four years after HomeServe USA built a $5.5 million call center in Chattanooga, most of the hundreds of work cubicles in the 46,000-square-foot complex are now vacant.

But the empty desks in the two-story office on Lee Highway near Shallowford Road don't mean the home warranty company isn't growing or won't soon fill those seats.

In fact, HomeServe is seeking to add up to 150 more jobs to its existing 600-employee staff in Chattanooga over the next couple of months and is busy conducting training courses for additional customer service and sales workers needed to handle the growing business.

"Right now, we're working fully remote, although offices are open if employees want to work here or if there are meetings or training on-site," said Jennifer Wilhoit, senior manager of talent acquisition for HomeServe USA. "But we will be moving back on-site, hopefully after the holidays, if we can."

Since coming to Chattanooga in 2013, HomeServe has expanded its Chattanooga operations into one of the biggest call centers in the region and the biggest employment site for HomeServe USA, headquartered in Norfolk, Connecticut. HomeServe's parent company is a British multinational home emergency repairs and improvements business based in Walsall, England.

In North America, HomeServe has grown to serve about 5 million policies issued for warranty work on everything from home appliances to water and gas lines to heating and air conditioning equipment protection. Most of the sales for that business and all of the initial customer contact for service work are handled on the phone by employees at the company's Chattanooga office.

Wilhoit said HomeServe is growing and also looking to bring some of the call services offered by third parties back into the company.

To expand its staff in an increasingly tight labor market, HomeServe boosted pay for all of its Chattanooga hourly workers in August, including a bump in the starting wage for any worker at the Chattanooga facility from $12 an hour up to $16 an hour.

"We began seeing a very tight and tough labor market here earlier this year so we decided to make this pay adjustment and to encourage our staff to make referrals with bonuses of up to $500 for those who are hired," she said. "The labor market now is unlike anything that we have ever seen. It's super hard right now and very competitive for anyone trying to hire more staff."

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HomeServe boosts minimum pay

Wilhoit said HomeServe was typically getting 600 or 700 job applications a month until a few months ago, but applications dropped this summer to about 100 to 150 a month.

Last month, unemployment in metropolitan Chattanooga fell below 3% for the first time in nearly two and a half years due to both an improving economy and a smaller labor force than before the pandemic due to retirements, resignations and rethinking of work life. Tennessee career centers are listing more than 3.5 jobs for every unemployed person in the state.

"That forced us to take a step back and say, 'What do we need to do to be competitive in this market?'" Wilhoit said, explaining the 33% jump in minimum pay implemented in August. "The higher pay has helped us some with our recruitment, but it has really made a drastically increased engagement and morale for our current employees."

HomeServe successfully switched nearly 500 of its Chattanooga contact center employees to work from home over 10 days during March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic first began to sweep through the U.S. Although the company has kept most workers remote for more than a year and a half, Wilhoit said most of the staff is expected to return to the worksite sometime next year.

At the Chattanooga office complex, workers have access to an on-site weight and workout room along with a game room that hosts the company's highly competitive annual foosball tournament. Full-time workers also have health and retirement benefits and are eligible for profit sharing or extra bonuses for sales staff.

Wilhoit said HomeServe also promotes from within and tries to build careers for individuals to move up in the company.

"And we try to make it fun to work here," Wilhoit said.

On Friday, some of the workers who are coming into the HomeServe facility dressed up for Halloween, including appearances by Santa Claus, Spider-Man and several witches.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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