Keeping the city sparkling

Frontline staff at Porirua City Council take great pride in their work and their city. They recognise that what they do impacts how people view the city and surroundings.

As Parks Operations Manager, Julian Emeny puts it, “I see the pride and passion they have in looking after the city – keeping it sparkling. It’s their backyard. It’s meaningful. They put their heart in to it. We want to create opportunities for personal development and growth. If you focus on the person, they feel valued and you get better customer service.” 

After being approached by the training provider Capital Training, the Council recognised they had a great opportunity to upskill some of their workers so they were better placed to complete paper work, engage with colleagues, contribute ideas, and to gain computer skills. “Overall it was a perfect storm,” says Senior People & Capablity Advisor, Joanna Parker. “Our people had a need and were ready to learn, Capital Training arrived with a flexible progamme, great tutor and fantastic behind-the-scenes support, and our managers were happy to enable it.”

The option to attend the course was voluntary, and initially some participants  from frontline roles in Recreation, Parks and Operations Support were uncertain. “We approached it with a postive twist,” says Julian. “We made sure there was food for morning tea and the support of one of the supervisors who also went along to the course.”

The Council had both business and social motives for instigating the training. Likewise for learners on the programme, attending improved their skills at work and at home. While they appreciated that their reading, writing and communication had improved, what they valued the most was learning about computers. “I used to just watch the kids on the computer and I’m now able to join them – but their fingers are really fast!” said Iaone. 

Naing Ha commented that learning about computers has really helped him. Before the course he didn’t use the computer much. “Now I can email and look up plant types. It’s easier for me to find things on the computer.” Sale also loves changes it has made to him. “I can go into work early in the morning and see the news. I also send emails to my boss. I now know how to take photos on my phone and send them to the boss. He thinks it’s amazing.” Setu and Laseng also talked about how they’d learnt to log-in and were using computers for the first time. Empowering staff in this way delivers benefits that can be measured way beyond just the workplace. 

Keeping learners’ interest up over an 80 hour course takes something special. Joanna commented that after their early hesitancy the workers became personally invested in their learning. This was demonstrated by their commitment to attending (sometimes even when on leave), interest in the content, the motivation they showed to continue their  learning and also in the respect they developed for their tutor David. They variously described David as, “patient, understanding, humble, respectful, and kind.” David thinks his approach works so well because he uses the principles and values of the community. “Manaakitanga and tuakana-teina - they are surrounded by this thinking.” And from the Council’s perspective Joanna said they appreciated David’s reliability, flexibility, responsiveness, and ability to deliver content that met the Council’s and learners’ needs.

And what difference has it made to the way of working? As with other programmes, improving confidence is one of the biggest differences that managers have noticed in their workers. Charmaine Berkland, Street Works Supervisor, said this confidence is shown by proactive and positive participation in workplace activities. She cited the example of a recent team building day the workers on the programme were more confidently able to interact with managers and co-workers – better than other workers were. They are also now filling out their own time sheets and sending emails. Learning about computers has also meant the learners have been able to undertake the new health and safety training programme that is totally online. 

Getting programmes like this underway and maintaining the commitment isn’t always straightforward. As Joanna says, “The programme is funded, but there are costs in terms of on-the-job productivity, managers’ time, and resources like computers and meeting rooms. However, offering this opportunity also shows people they are valued. I believe that we have a responsibility to support the holistic development of our people. And when we do, we also benefit. Not only from more engaged and confident employees, but also from more actively contributing members of our community.”