What do employers want to know?

Here's some common questions that employers ask literacy and numeracy providers when they are starting on their workplace literacy and numeracy journey.

This information has been prepared by Education Unlimited.

So we have this really hardworking and loyal workforce but we have issues with efficiencies around productivity and communication breakdowns. We’re not sure what this is about, but we think it might be due to literacy or numeracy and ESOL. What do you think? What can we do about this?

The first thing is for us all to understand who your employees are. What is the ethnic mix? What about the gender mix? How long have your staff worked for you? Are they English second language speakers? Are they asking for training at work? When you have training, do people engage in the training or do they ‘zone out’ or not turn up? When you have toolbox, pre-start or handover meetings, do people speak up and ask questions? As project partners we need to get to understand your workers, their job roles and where you want them to head in terms of career path and training pathways. A good place to start is to work with your Industry Training Organisation and to get everybody’s NZQA Record of Learning to see what unit standards and qualifications they already have.

But how do we start addressing this without offending anyone or making them feel like they’re dumb or that their job is on the line?

This is a really good question and one that we get asked all the time. This training is an opportunity for people to improve their work and home life. The first thing we need to do is to meet your team and ‘socialise’ the idea of a training programme. This is a great way to answer questions (if there are any), introduce ourselves and put a face to the name and communicate the plan in a non-threatening way. We also recommend that we explain that the assessment we might do is used all over Aotearoa New Zealand and is not pass or fail. We explain that it gives us, the training provider, the information we need to design a programme that has the participant at the centre of it. It helps us to group people so that they enjoy the training. We also take this opportunity to explain that their personal result is theirs. The employer generally is interested in the overall picture, not the individual result. That way we deal with people’s valid fears and concerns. We also explain that this training is being offered because they are loyal and hardworking and for this company to remain successful we all need to be improving our skills. This is not a judgement, but a practical way to support people at work, with training in work time.

What will the participants get out of this?

We talk about the WIFM (what’s in it for me). Adults vote with their feet. If they are enjoying something and learning, they will attend and contribute. If they aren’t, then they won’t turn up. So identifying right up front what they want is critical. For example, if they are English second language people and the only place they speak English is at work, then they might say they want to increase their vocabulary in English. If they are using a computer and are unsure of the technology, they might want to increase their computing skills. More and more often, we get people wanting to increase their personal financial literacy skills as this directly benefits their families. People who work with others from all different countries often want to be better communicators. They self-identify that they have trouble getting their message across clearly and mistakes occur. When we talk with people about speaking publicly (at meetings for example) most people say that this really scares them and they would like to get better at this. Most people identify a personal goal straight away. This may well be their first opportunity to do something about this without having to seek help outside of work hours which doesn’t happen as they are often working 6 days a week and have busy personal lives.

What is wrong with the school system? Why do we have these problems in the workplace? Shouldn’t this be addressed at school?

The school system deals with young people as best it can. We have a country that is full of new New Zealanders who are from many other places. We also have many Kiwis who moved around a lot when they were young and didn’t get the most out of the education system. There are numerous and varied reasons that people have skill gaps that impact on their work and personal lives. The fact of the matter is that in order to ensure that New Zealand and everybody living in it has the best opportunities to grow and contribute to their families, their communities and society as a whole, we need to address these challenges at work. Most people want to improve their lives. Our job is to ensure that we meet that need and also make a difference to you, the employer that is investing in its workforce.

We’ve got this new technology coming in and we know that people are really nervous about this. How do we ensure that our workers are ready for this change?

Firstly it’s great that you have identified that there might be genuine fear and concern around this new technology being introduced. The thing we need to do is understand how this new technology will change their current job role and what core skills they have that we can build on.

The workers have always been able to speak their first language to each other on the job, but this is becoming an issue as the cultural mix is really big and we need to know everyone understands the key health and safety messages. How do we change this without being offensive?

Making it clear that the desire for everybody to speak English on the job comes from a concern around health and safety is a good way to introduce this change. Everybody wants to go home safely to their loved ones, so ensuring that there is a shared understanding of the potential risks on the job is perfectly fair and acceptable. Working with a provider to communicate this priority and how it is going to be implemented is crucial. This requires a clear plan including visual aids on the job as well as training to increase everyone’s English language capability. Be realistic about how long this change will take and what the steps to success look like.

We’ve got mistakes and re-work happening too regularly and people are getting performance managed. We think it may be due to a lack of understanding of the maths. How do we find out for sure what’s going on?

Working with a provider to unpack the underlying numeracy that is in people’s jobs is very important here. This can be done alongside a numeracy assessment to get an understanding of your workforce’s current numeracy capability. The key here is to give people feedback quickly so that they can own their own learning. We see the assessment process as like getting a camera out and taking a photo of the workforce’s current capability on a given day. There is no judgement here, it is about knowing where people are at and where the job tasks are at so that we can get these lining up.

There’s lots of change happening in this workplace. The plant has been restructured and people are expected to communicate more and step up to more complex roles. Is there a good or bad time to do some literacy training?

Often the best time to implement a training programme is when the change is already happening to support people’s ability to cope and adapt to the change happening around them. The key is to clearly articulate to the workforce (including all the team leaders and supervisors) that this is one way to support the changes taking place. When people understand that this is a positive and that their job is not at risk they respond positively to the initiative.

Do we introduce training as compulsory or do we offer people places based on loyalty and motivation?

Good question. You will have a gut feel for how many people you can take off the job and train that won’t impact negatively on your business as usual work. Once the assessment and recruitment process has been completed you will be in a better position to decide on who should be offered a place. The great thing about employer led workplace literacy funding is that we can work with companies and their workforce for as long as is necessary. So if we find that the confident people who don’t feel as threatened come forward first, then can show the people who are waiting in the wings that this is a great opportunity to improve themselves. They tend to then come forward if there is a second iteration of the programme.

What is the best way to introduce literacy training? How have other companies done it? What works? What happens if nobody comes forward? Or if too many people come forward?

The key to getting this right is to first understand how you communicate to your workforce currently. There is no right or wrong way to introduce a programme. The provider you choose to partner with will help you through this decision making process and ensure that the communication piece is fit for purpose for your company and your workers. Some of this will depend on whether you are all based in one place, or spread around different regions. Different shift patterns will have a bearing on this. The size of your company will also be a factor here.

Some companies start off with flyers in people’s pay slips and notices on notice boards. Other companies get their teams off the job to hear about the initiative. Other companies utilise their team leaders to disseminate the message and see who comes forward.

It is rare for nobody to come forward. If this happens, then the communication will need to be done with each employee and with a trusted workmate or team leader.

If too many people come forward, this is a great problem to have. Some companies will ask the TEC for more funded places, other companies will waitlist people for another programme.

We don’t really know what our workers want or need. We’ve been really busy doing our core business and have only really concentrated on compliancy training. But we think we want our workers to get some formal qualifications but we don’t know if they’re ready for this, or want it. Where do we start?

You have started by asking these questions and deciding to look into this training opportunity. The first step is for us to get an understanding of your workforce. What they do for a job and the complexity of it and where things might be improved with workplace literacy training. When you look at formal training think about the level of training you would like people to participate in. Working with a provider and your Industry Training Organisation(s) is really important here. We want people to engage in training and enjoy the experience. This is what unlocks people’s motivation to do more and ask “what next?” Fortunately, now we can work with people using workplace literacy funding while they also enrol and complete a Level 2 NZQA (New Zealand Qualification Authority) formal qualification. This is a really positive development and many companies are looking at this as a way to deliberately address people’s core literacy, language and numeracy skills while also offering the opportunity for participating in a formal training programme and getting on the learning journey.