Remeny Weber, training coordinator and the Section Head, Pathology at Labtests, on the company's experience using the Workbase literacy programme. Labtests is an Auckland company with 600 staff.
The difference between Labtests and perhaps some of the other Workbase clients is that our staff are largely tertiary educated people.
We have some lab assistants who may not have tertiary qualifications but the bulk of the staff we are helping with their English include lab technicians, phlebotomists, scientists and doctors. Around half of our staff have come from overseas and qualified abroad- we have 42 nationalities -and they may be uncertain of the cultural boundaries in New Zealand.
It has been quite an investment in time. Staff are required to commit to 40 hours of training over a year and they work in small groups of three or four. Around 50 staff participate in the Workbase training per year.
The benefits to Labtests have not necessarily been quantifiable but we have seen real improvement in the confidence of our people to communicate with each other and with people they deal with in the job. For some of them, they are being helped on their pronunciation and grammar, on local colloquialisms, how to write grammatically correct personal and business emails, for instance.
We have operating procedures the staff have to read when they join. For some of them, these are difficult to decipher. With the training they can go through them and come back to us and tell us when they don't understand something.
One benefit we have seen is staff are becoming more involved in meetings than they used to be, joining in, where they used to just sit. One woman went for her annual review before doing any of the training and would not write a thing on her form about how she thought she was doing and what goals she might have.
After the training, eight months later she needed an extra page attached to her form because she was writing so much and she talked for an hour and a half with her supervisor on her plans for the future.
Our staff have learned some skills in public speaking, they practise telephone calls. If they are talking to a stressed GP on the phone, they might now have the confidence to ask them to slow down if they are speaking too quickly. What they are learning are good life skills which they can practise outside work as well. It's not about formal education or qualifications it's about confidence.