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Business support services has been one of Canada’s fastest growing industries over the past two decades. Employment in this field—consisting mostly of telephone call centres—has increased more than fivefold, from 20,000 employees in 1987 to 112,000 in 2004.

Atlantic Canada has emerged as a major centre for business support services. Though almost half of all business support jobs are in Ontario, Atlantic Canada increased its share to 25% in 2004, up from just 5% in 1990. The boom in Atlantic Canada came mainly at the expense of Quebec, where the share of call centre jobs fell from 26% to 9% over the same period.

Two factors make Atlantic Canada an attractive location for call centres. The region has a large and available work force. In addition, technological advances have allowed call centres to be located far from the clients they serve.

Chart: Business support services' employment, selected characteristics, 2004Jobs in business support services generally pay low wages. In 2004, workers earned an average of $12.45 per hour, compared with the $18.10 service industry average and the $18.50 average for all industries. And employee turnover is high: 85% of workers stay five years or less, while 40% stay less than one year.

A common misperception about the industry is that it attracts only less educated workers. In fact, two out of three business support services workers had at least some postsecondary education in 2004, roughly the same ratio as in the entire services sector and in all industries combined. Women made up 63% of the employees in the industry; young people aged 15 to 24 made up 31%—twice their representation in the entire services sector and in the overall work force.