Magazine article New Zealand Management

Releasing Fletcher Aluminium's Invisible Handbrake Workplace Literacy-A Win-Win Situation: Productivity Is Up, Health and Safety Has Improved, the Staff Are Happy and the Company Is Achieving Its Goals. Fletcher Aluminium Has Struck a Winning Formula and It's as Simple as ABC or Even 123. Helen Tatham Profiles the Company's Workplace Literacy Programme

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Releasing Fletcher Aluminium's Invisible Handbrake Workplace Literacy-A Win-Win Situation: Productivity Is Up, Health and Safety Has Improved, the Staff Are Happy and the Company Is Achieving Its Goals. Fletcher Aluminium Has Struck a Winning Formula and It's as Simple as ABC or Even 123. Helen Tatham Profiles the Company's Workplace Literacy Programme

Article excerpt

English is a second language for 85 percent of Fletcher Aluminium's 150 manufacturing staff. Obviously this creates some issues. Happily, though, staff and company management are working together--with the help of an external party--to lift literacy levels and improve productivity and workplace satisfaction.

Workers who are not comfortably literate in English find it difficult to participate fully in meetings and training and could also be at risk from health and safety issues. And the company runs the risk of lower productivity affecting competitiveness in a tough market.

Recognising both these potential problems, Fletcher Aluminium teamed up with education provider Workbase three years ago to provide literacy support for its staff. Workbase has carried out literacy training programmes with over 100 companies ranging from plastics to food processing to furniture manufacturing to aged care, predominantly in the Auckland region.

Fletcher Aluminium's HR manager Warwick Milbank says before the Workbase programme was implemented, he was aware it was difficult to get some members of staff to contribute at meetings. The company wanted to hear ideas about how to improve the workplace but staff members were too shy and lacked the confidence to speak up. Milbank says the company did conduct pre-employment tests but a shortage of appropriately skilled workers meant some slipped through and were employed despite not meeting the required literacy standards.

In his 12 years with the company, and 21 years with Comalco before Fletcher Aluminium took over, Milbank says he never really understood the level of literacy of the staff.

"I can talk to someone but that doesn't give you any understanding. They say 'yes' as though they understand you, but you do see people doing things wrong so you begin to understand that they don't really understand you at all," Milbank says.

Much of the time the staff spoke their own languages on the job which, while helpful in keeping the workforce engaged with one another, also meant management were often unaware of issues.

This lack of understanding became a problem when the company wanted to introduce a new philosophy and build self-managing teams. It wanted teams to make their own decisions rather than being told what to do.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

"We couldn't go down that track unless we had a higher level of communication skills and understanding," Milbank says.

It was essential to get buy-in from the staff--making it equally essential that communication levels rose.

It wasn't until Milbank spoke to a colleague at Fletcher Easy Steel that he realised how Workbase could help and he gained the confidence to give it a go.

The process began with discussions about what Fletcher Aluminium wanted to achieve. Workbase then conducted an assessment of literacy skills and made a presentation to senior management. It wasn't difficult to get their support. Workbase also helped Fletcher Aluminium achieve up to 70 percent funding for the programme.

For its part, Fletcher Aluminium established a learning room where the Workbase tutor could work one-to-one with participants, and provided a computer and other equipment.

Milbank knew that promoting the programme as a literacy skills course ran the risk of insulting those who needed it most. For example, one participant held a university degree from his home country but struggled with English. To combat this, the programme was presented as a communication skills course.

"We decided we could handle 20 [participants] at a time," Milbank said. "We asked for 20 volunteers and got 40."

Each programme lasts 48 weeks. Due to the company's shift hours, employees must do some learning in their own time, but there are no complaints as the benefits flow through to their life outside work. The training has meant they can now help their children with homework, use the family computer or talk to their bank manager, things they did not have confidence to do. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.