Reigniting the learning journey for Westco Lumber staff

When Westland timber processor Westco Lumber heard about the benefits of Skills Highway from a furniture-maker customer in Greymouth, they decided to give the programme a go themselves. Read how Conquest Training worked with Westco Lumber to increase the literacy and numeracy skills of their staff.

“Many of our 90 staff hadn’t progressed through their secondary education and had literacy and numeracy challenges,” says team leader Nathan Hoglund. “We have a culture of wanting people to upskill, so I promoted Skills Highway to them, and Conquest Training tailor-made the programme to suit the individuals and the business.”

A broad approach to learning 
Conquest Training’s managing director Nettles Lamont says they find out what the company goals are and what they’re wanting to achieve. “Every company is different so we work together to build, tweak and adapt the programme.

“We take a very integrated approach to learning. For example, to improve numeracy skills, we’ll get employees understanding their own household budgeting or KiwiSaver, before relating the learning back to the business. 

“We’ll also use company documents as learning resources – drug and alcohol policies, standard operating procedures (SOPs), incident records, employment contracts, and financial charts and graphs. 

Staff become more engaged with their work
For people with reading difficulties, Conquest works with them to simplify documents. “When a saw doctor rewrote his SOP, his reading improved and Westco got a team expert on saw safety procedures,” says Nettles.

Nathan says the training has led to people taking more ownership of their roles and being more interested in the business. “The quarterly review of expenses, profits and exports suddenly took on new meaning as people made the connection between fluctuating exchange rates and timber exports, and their slice of the company profits!” 

Skills Highway builds employee confidence 
“One of our goals is to reignite the learning journey,” says Nettles. “So we’ll work with companies to see the value of career pathways for their staff. We want to see people engaged, productive and growing in confidence, and saying, ‘Maybe I can do that supervisor’s course, or get my driver’s licence.’”

“Everyone was more energised and positive after the training, and put their hands up for opportunities,” observes Nathan. “One trainee machinist started to shine in her role and became more confident about taking up a supervisor position.”

Confident people are also more likely to speak up about workplace health and safety – something that’s vital at a sawmill. 

“We’ll build confidence by getting people to join in group discussions, starting with something everyone’s got an opinion on, like the cannabis referendum!” says Nettles. “Then we’ll put a health and safety lens across the discussion.”

Working around the challenges 
“Getting people together in a group that you know will work well together can be challenging,” says Nettles. “One way is to help the generations learn from one another, so we’ll often pair the younger workers with the older ones.” 

And for the company, Nathan says, “it takes a fair amount of organising to take people off the sawmill for training when you’re trying to run a lean business. But our plan was to free up about 10 percent of our staff across the whole site. This wasn’t so hard on the business, and people got to train with others outside their team. 

“We continued with the training for other staff who wanted to take part, though with COVID-19 it meant adjusting to smaller groups. But the results are definitely worth the effort. It was great to see staff who hadn’t done any training for years put their hands up wanting to learn something new.” 

Westco Lumber won the Skills Highway category at the 2020 Diversity Awards. Find out more in the video below:

A fully funded programme for employers, Skills Highway is designed to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of staff. Get in touch with the TEC to see if a workplace literacy and numeracy course could benefit your business.