Cutting Edge

The challenge

Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts NZ (WPNZ) is New Zealand’s largest timber operation, and employs a significant number of Maori and Pasifika workers at eight sites. A high proportion of their workforce have limited educational achievements beyond early secondary school. A significant number are what would be termed “low-skilled”. At one site in South Auckland, 95% have English as a second language and come from the Pacific Islands.

WPNZ are the biggest employer in the region for three of their main processing sites. They have a significant impact on the lives of those who belong to these small communities. If workers are not able to find employment with WPNZ, they are forced to seek work elsewhere.

A key initiative was introduced in 2013 to help build workforce capability and leadership skills at the woodproduct sites. The main focus was to ensure that WPNZ could offer their people the skills and tools to support their day-to-day role, and to drive a safe and productive workforce.

To build a skilled and well-trained workforce, key pillars of their strategic plan were identifying and developing their talent so they could:

  • lift the ability to perform key tasks and responsibilities on the job
  • make good, safe decisions all day – every day
  • take ownership and enhance individual and company performance.

Problems with literacy and numeracy

WPNZ recognised that producing quality products in the competitive timber market relied on the skills of their people to run machines correctly, manage waste and costs, apply correct amounts of material to processes, and complete accurate reports on shift production and product to client specifications.

These issues were explained to the business and through investigation we identified a number of issues relating to literacy and numeracy (LN) challenges and low LN confidence.

  • Quality – they struggle to understand instructions and the importance of quality
  • Process – they are unable to understand simple processes (keeping safe at work, etc) and documentation (forms not filled in, or not filled in correctly)
  • Numeracy – products are under- or over-ordered, raw material waste can be high when staff don’t understand the dollar value of each component, and output statistics are recorded incorrectly; mistakes in using the attendance system for recording pay and allowances, leading to incorrect pay.
  • Communication – the oral and written communication challenges include not understanding verbal instructions, not completing paperwork correctly and not speaking up at team meetings. In some teams, staff with better English skills have to translate messages so everyone can clearly understand, particularly when using radios on large sites.
  • Health and safety – poor and unsafe work practices are evident in the workplace. EHSR forms are often not filled in, or not filled in correctly. SOPs (standard operating procedures) are not followed. In 2012, WPNZ had four serious harm incidents.
  • Reluctance to learn new tasks – staff are often not keen to change roles or departments and learn new tasks on different machines or enrol in qualification programmes.

Our solution

In early 2013, we designed and delivered an embedded literacy programme, Cutting Edge Leaders. This was piloted in the business and from its success and the momentum it produced, we created a three-tiered development programme under the Cutting Edge brand. Each module targeted distinct employee groups, with a number of common skill themes. Literacy and numeracy (LN) skills building and core business concepts ran across all three programmes.

The results
Feedback from senior managers has been extremely positive about how the programmes are delivered, and the level of skill from The Learning Wave’s team to engage all types of learners and make the learning meaningful for each learner.
Site managers have reported:

  • greater cooperation with site management
  • more willingness to hold people accountable
  • better dynamics in team function
  • less blame culture
  • better performance overall for health and safety
  • speaking out about important issues
  • greater participation in meetings
  • more efficient shift handover
  • higher tolerance for difference
  • more positive references to the company
  • better understanding of standard operating procedures
  • ongoing coaching with line managers
  • more questions asking “why do we do it this way” have led to improved processes.

In terms of skills gained over the 40 hours of learning, participants were asked to self-rate their ability against key measures; we have seen significant gains in their confidence and ability to complete their jobs. Four scores which have been highlighted to the management team are:

  • 44% increase in ability to deal with conflict
  • 40% increase in confidence to have their say and ask questions at work
  • 39% increase in ability to communicate with their manager and workmates
  • 35% increase in knowledge of the paperwork they need to complete on the job.

“It’s hard to look beyond The Learning Wave when you have had a 10-year relationship with them, when you have first-hand knowledge of the training the facilitators receive and the continual feedback process they go through.

When choosing a learning provider, trust is at the top of my list.

We are undergoing a cultural change. If I look back over the last three years and reflect on where we were, we are miles ahead. There is an air of positive working relationships in the business, and performance management has had a positive effect rather than being seen as negative. A sense of pride has been established in some business units that wasn’t present before.

I’m a reactive client in a reactive business; sometimes the business had me making urgent changes that would completely throw some learning providers. This is not the case with The Learning Wave – they respect my business needs and are ready to respond in helpful empowering ways.”

Kate Lyon
People Development Manager
Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts NZ