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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Answering a call for help

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

For almost half a century, Joan Segee has had trouble making ends meet. She didn't have the luxury of a good education as a young woman. When she was 16, her mother left, and so as a teenager she had to quit school to take care of her younger sister.

A lack of education and a lack of direction meant that Joan had to take a variety of poorly paying jobs she didn't enjoy. The 63-year-old has worked at a knitting factory. She's been a forklift driver, a warehouse manager and she's washed cars.

Her situation worsened when her father had a stroke five years ago, leaving him incapacitated. Segee had to quit her job and stay home to care for her father. She took on a part-time job answering calls for a real estate company -- a job she could do at home.
Joan Segee says studying call centre operations at Centennial College was the best thing she's ever done.

Then her father died and Segee inherited his debts. In her early 60s, she was at an age when many people can retire. But Joan knew that she couldn't make ends meet and she couldn't support herself. It was time to find full-time work.

"I had to find something where I could get more money. I didn't have enough money to live on. So I talked to friends and family to figure out what I could do. I'm too old to work in a warehouse. But I didn't know what else I could do," she says.

Segee devised a strategy. She had been out of the work force for five years, and at her age, she figured few employers would give her resume a second glance. Her solution was to take a certificate course at Centennial College in call centre operations.

"I thought at my age it would be difficult to get a job unless I got into a field work program. Through the school, you take the course, then you do your fieldwork, and if the company likes you and your work, I figured that they'll hire you."

In Segee's case that's just what happened.

The first step was to enrol in the year long, full-time course at Centennial, where she gained the

skills she needed, ranging from computer literacy, customer service, financial applications and currency conversion.

The life skills course helped change her attitude. By encouraging students to keep a diary, this course allowed Segee to let go of many negative feelings she had, and gave her the momentum she needed to improve her professional and personal life.

Joan's hard work on the course was recognized. As the student with the highest grade point average, she was awarded the Avaya Call Centre Scholarship.

Following the course she did five weeks of field work as an information officer at a government department. After her placement, her bosses at the department offered Segee a job. It's challenging, but she enjoys going to work every day.

"When we get to work, people are waiting in cue. They're calling to inquire about applications or they're worried things aren't going to happen as fast as they'd like it. As soon as you put down the phone, another call is waiting. We handle 60 to 80 calls a day."

This is a job that can be stressful. But Segee enjoys helping people and giving them the information they need. Her maternal voice and her patient manner can calm hot tempers. For Segee, this is rewarding work.

"A lot of people say 'You're very nice. You've been very helpful. Thank you very much. And you're the first person I can really understand.'

"When I first started, I was wondering if I had made the right decision. It was going to cost me a lot of money to do that course, and I was wondering if I had made the right decision. Now I know I definitely did," she says.

"Doing the course took me from feeling nearly totally depressed, to having a really good job that I enjoy a lot. When my dad died, he didn't have anything and I could barely support myself. Taking this course gave me direction. It's the best thing I ever did."

(Reach freelancer Susan Poizner at (

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