Peter Mulligan, operations manager at corporate uniform manufacturer, Deane Apparel, on the benefits of using a Workbase literacy and numeracy programme. The company, based in Wiri, South Auckland has 300 staff.
We use computer systems in our warehouse and they are quite complex systems, so everyone needs to read and write to a reasonable high level. We have over 5000 uniform styles to choose from, with many sizes and colours, as we dress everyone from the managing director to the storeman. If our staff go and pick an order, they have to go to many different locations, select the right style, size, colour and number of units.
We have 25 people in our Auckland warehouse, and 25 people in our emblems unit. They might have to cut off a sleeve or shorten a garment, embroider, sew a badge onto a garment and put someone's name on the clothing. Our staff there are a veritable United Nations - they are Samoan, Raratongan, Tongan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and Fijian Indian.
For many of them English is a second language. All these alterations are in writing so once again an ability to read is very important.
We brought in Workbase who came in with trainers, working with people either singly or in groups. For some of our staff, they had not done very well at school but being taught in a work environment was a different experience. They seemed to learn at an accelerated pace.
Thanks to the training, we found that we had a lot of clever people working for us and they have now gone on to higher levels in the company. We have identified people inside the warehouse who are now going up through the grades. They have been promoted so their pay is now $4 or $5 more an hour. They are very loyal to the company, cross trained and more skilled.
What you find with our staff from the Pacific Islands is that they tend to have their heads down at work through lack of confidence. Now, since their literacy training, they hold their heads up and there is a lot more communication between the staff and management.
They are not making the mistakes and when we hire new people they are interested in the process. They only want good people to join the business. More of our staff are staying on, they feel better about themselves and they are earning more money. We allow our staff to bring their kids in who are old enough in the holidays so they get a taste of what it's like working here. When there are vacancies they are usually filled from recommendations from our staff.
One of the things this process has taught us is to interview more thoroughly although we do still need muscle as well as brains. We have to get people who are capable of physical and mental work.
We have two women from the warehouse who serve in the shop while the usual staff are on their lunch break. That's the sort of opportunity they are getting after the literacy and numeracy training. When we approached them about the training we were surprised at the positive response.
We have four young people who have really progressed. Without the literacy training we wouldn't have found this hidden talent.
One young man, Alex, we found was really clever and he now looks after all our export orders to countries like Australia, Japan and China. One of our other young men, Peter, who we found was excellent at maths, is now a team leader. Another employee, Vera, now covers absenteeism in the Air New Zealand shop, and will help in customer services. She's in high demand from many areas in the company.
To us, the cost of losing a few hours in the training is worth it for the benefits we have gained. They have more than covered the training expenses. If you train people you pretty much always get your money back. We have 100-120 machinists in Christchurch Rangiora and they've improved their performance. You only have to make a few mistakes in the warehouse to start costing money.
Companies of any size can afford it, the benefits are massive.