“Go Back and Do More”: Skills First Training at Living Earth

The Christchurch Living Earth team carry a new sense of pride and understanding since completing Skills First, part of Waste Management New Zealand’s training programme for staff.

“We were the first cab off the rank,” says plant manager Daniel O’Carroll. “I’d seen a similar programme where I used to work, and I know what a difference it makes.”

That difference is significant for Living Earth, New Zealand’s main provider of organic waste services. The noticeable benefits extend from the individual: greater confidence, competence, and health and safety awareness, to the entire business: greater efficiency, better processes, and less risk.

Daniel says the logistics of training staff while keeping production going can be a challenge. “We had to sell it to the technologist and supervisors. Funding is a small part, time and resource is still the issue”. Living Earth operates seven days a week, with two shifts in summer. “It’s a busy site, with large machinery and workers on the ground,” says Compliance Co-ordinator, Tena Ferrari.

Skills First, run by training provider, Upskills, focused on the training needs of eight staff members. Health and safety was key. “The new law pushes us to do more with Health and Safety. We understand more now and why it is important,” says Danesh. “Even the little things like PPE and why we have to wear it. We didn’t use to like wearing masks – now everyone is wearing them.”

A big plus was having choice in what to learn. Upskills Director, Sarah Balfour, said the tutor designed the learning around the site and the work, setting individual goals for each worker. This approach helped employees feel in control and able to choose what to learn to help do their job better. Communication, written and oral, was a focus. “We need to know how to fill out job sheets so the office isn’t chasing us,” says Nathan.   

The team were tasked with finding solutions to workplace problems, and Nathan’s task was how to encourage employees to wear PPE. The educational posters he designed are now door size, and Nathan says he feels great to see his posters all around the Living Earth site. 

Having a better understanding about health and safety issues has given the team the confidence to speak up. “Before the course I would tell someone that something was broken,” says Danesh. “Now I fill out the form now and tell everyone – the guard is missing here, there is no tail light on this machine.”

“We have a lot of paper work and some used to struggle with it,” says Tena. “It was okay when there was a form they were familiar with, but if there were any changes it was an issue. The other week one of the workers was able to fill out a completely new form.” Employees are now speaking up in tool box meetings, asking at the office about their PPE, and interacting more with Open Day visitors.

The learning will not stop now the programme has finished.  Some will go into other courses and two have continued on to a new Upskills training programme. “We’re doing a new course, learning about company policies, about computers, the job, its frustrations and how to deal with them,” says Nathan.

Daniel wants to see one of the workers go on to get his Class 2/4 truck licence. He is also having a video made where a worker from the programme describes the processes needed to do his job. “He didn’t used to have the confidence, now he does”.

Nathan perhaps best sums up the success of this programme. He says he wasted time at school as he wasn’t interested. Now Nathan has opted for the second programme with Living Earth and Upskills and would tell others, “Go back and do more”.