Landing a better job with English | ELPNZ

Landing a better job with English

07 May 2013


For stevedores working in the fast-paced and potentially hazardous environment of Ports of Auckland, the ability to communicate clearly in English is critical. 
However, for many stevedores – or ‘lashers’ as they are known – English is their
second language, and understanding the complex and unique vocabulary of the port often requires a helping hand.
Ports of Auckland performance and training specialist Paul White says the decision to invest in language training
for its workers is an easy one.
The port has offered English classes for three years now, working with a variety of agencies. The current 12-week
course by English Language Partners is the second time the not-for-profit organisation has been involved.
Paul says it is important not only for safety reasons, but also to provide further.
“The statistics tell us that, in the three years that we’ve been using this programme, the likelihood of advancing their careers is enhanced by attending these courses.
“I know for a fact, that without it they would be passed over for advancement,” says Paul.
Teacher Val Scott says there are currently two English for Employees classes – one for beginners and one for intermediate speakers. Both focus on work-related vocabulary, particularly in relation to communication around health and safety, but Val says it’s more than just learning new words.
“They’re gradually gaining confidence, which I think is crucial, because we can’t cover all skill areas, but the confidence to ask questions, and to try
and explain things can make.  Building rapport is an essential part of this job. It’s not just the teacher who knows everything.
“It means they communicate more effectively. As confidence grows they try more, stretch, sometimes people are more aware of their rights and
responsibilities towards each other.” 
Classes, held once a week in two hour instalments, are free, and workers are still paid for their time in class as if they were working. With no tests or grades, the course aims to get workers moving more comfortably within their adopted language.
“We do an initial self-assessment – how comfortable they feel with their English,” says Val. “Towards the end of the course, we talk about what they feel they can do better, and hopefully, students can give some examples, and that becomes the outcome.” 
Both Val and the students agree, one of the most practical aspects of the course is working on employees’ pronunciation, but before that can happen, Val says it’s often necessary for students to come out of their skins.
“They’re quite shy, like many people from the Pacific [it’s important to] get trust first … like many people speaking English as a second language, they’re
frightened of making mistakes.”
Val says the trust is based on the belief that learning is not just a oneway street. 
“Building rapport is an essential part of this job. It’s not just the teacher who knows everything; it’s that we’ve all got something to learn from each other.”
Most students are employed as casual workers, and need a step up in their English ability to become fulltime employees, something the company is keen to encourage.
“What we’ve done is said, ‘Right, we’re looking for potential candidates to promote – who might benefit from this training?’” says Paul. “We’ve asked the trainers to keep an eye out and identify people who might have difficulty with English, so we’re trying to catch them as they filter in.”
Elijah Powell hopes improved English might one day lead to his dream job of being a crane driver or, in the meantime, open up a position in human
resources or the control tower. Juggling his native Fijian with English can get confusing, and Elijah says the lessons offer him a chance to formalise
his language skills.
“It’s been good doing the English class, learning the vocab and organisation of words,” says Elijah, who speaks Fijian with his parents and English with his wife and children. “You go to one house you speak Fijian, you go to another house you speak English. Sometimes there are words that I find a bit hard to pronounce.
“The fun part [of the lessons] is taking the learning and understanding of English to another level. Not just the basic, but learning new words, asking the boys how their week was, meeting up with the boys, having that open talk with the tutor.”
Tongan worker Seone Toangutu too says improved English would help him land the job of a straddle driver, while Motumua Motumua from Tuvalu says just speaking English regularly in the classroom environment is a powerful tool: helping him to achieve his longterm goal of speaking English fluently.
“What we’ve created is a culture where people are able to identify their strengths and their weaknesses, and they’re supported in developing the areas they need for improvement,” says Paul. 
With this new awareness and confidence, both the port and the students are looking forward to seeing where their English will take them in the future.

Story/photos: James Fyfe