English for Employees is a free course for people who already have a job and want to improve their workplace English.
Milsons R&D Manager Reuben Atkinson says the idea of taking English language classes came from the workers themselves. “We encourage the personal and professional development of our staff, and they can suggest courses they would like to do.”
Six of the sixteen warehouse staff at the metal fastening and engineering suppliers are Karen migrants, each with varying levels of English. When the opportunity arose to learn inhouse with their workmates, they leapt at the chance to improve their language skills.
The company showed their support of the learners by paying them while they attended the two-hour classes, held in a designated study space at Milsons, each Thursday morning.
English for Employees tutor Robert O’Connor says teaching on site was a unique experience and he was impressed with the encouragement and extra effort Milsons takes to look after its workers.
During the 15-week course, Robert concentrated on ‘functional language’ to meet the needs of the learners in their work environment. This included giving and taking instructions, relevant vocabulary, comprehending health and safety rules, and an introduction to basic First Aid.
Most of the learners say they especially enjoyed the lessons in grammar but found Māori pronunciation the most difficult.
We have witnessed the mutual benefits to the staff and the company. It’s a win-win.
All the learners had already gained their forklift licences, so Robert used this opportunity as a classroom exercise to reinforce their knowledge and understanding of the machinery’s safety features.
“They were quite practical learners, so I designed the classes that way,” says Robert. “We had a lot of fun.”
Their daily tasks include repacking, picking and dispatching orders, often on rotation so they are working with other staff in the 15,000 square metre facility.
Thirty-three-year-old Warehouse Supervisor Kah Paw has been at Milsons almost continually since 2014.
At age 13, Kah Paw moved from his homeland of Burma to a refugee camp in Thailand.
He arrived in New Zealand in June 2012 with “Zero English”, he says.
Over the years, he has attended English language classes at various providers, and now has a good grasp of English and Kiwi slang.
Kah Paw’s work ethic and enthusiasm has made him somewhat of a leader among his fellow Karen workmates at Milsons. He knows first-hand how important self-confidence is to a newcomer to an unfamiliar country, and that it comes from being able to communicate well.
Reuben says the learners have grown in confidence in their work and their interaction with others. They feel they can speak directly with their managers and not just through Kah Paw.
“We have noticed how they sometimes use Kiwi slang in social situations and with other workers. It helps them feel part of the team.”
“They are such good guys, one hundred percent loyal and very hard workers.”
Reuben says Milsons is considering continuing the English courses. “We have witnessed the mutual benefits to the staff and the company. It’s a win-win.”