Selamawit, originally from Ethiopia, is one of a number of learners from English Language Partners Wellington to begin their working lives in New Zealand with Commonsense Organics.
The company, which has four stores, is committed to environmental sustainability, fair trade and social responsibility and providing organically grown food to promote good health and the long term care of our environment.
Five per cent of Commonsense Organics’ takings on the fifth of each month are donated to a local cause that is helping to advance the kinds of values and beliefs expressed in the company’s own trading philosophy. English Language Partners was chosen to receive this donation.
Commonsense Organics has also worked closely with English Language Partners in other ways: hosting cooking demonstrations by learners, providing raffle prizes and stocking their fundraising lullaby CD ‘Close your Eyes’.
The relationship between the two organisations began about when Marion Wood, managing director, was looking for cleaners.
“I knew Therese O’Connell, manager of English Language Partners at that time,” she said. “So I rang to see if they could help, and from there we started to recruit cleaners and packers through English Language Partners’ job placement team.
“One of the first people who came to us was Werkenesh Dehme, who is Ethiopian. We’ve now had several Ethiopian workers, including Werkenesh’s brother Eshetu, who is an absolute mainstay of our workforce.
“Our former accountant Bhupinder Singh, from India, also came through English Language Partners. He was struggling to find suitable work despite being an excellent accountant and absolutely brilliant with IT.
“He worked with us for five years and his sister-in-law now works for us. Bhupinder has now passed his final exams to become a fully qualified chartered accountant.”
Marion said that it was extremely satisfying to see staff develop their language skills and, wherever possible, they are then offered opportunities to progress with the company.
“Ours is the kind of business which, when vacancies arise, can support employment of refugees and migrants who may not have much English. It makes sense from our point of view and from their point of view.
“Obviously, we expect people to do a good job and we often find that, because people have had difficulty finding employment because of their lack of English, then they are very enthusiastic about their work.
“Often it is just a question of opportunity. Many very able people have come to us in this way and, as their English has improved, they have progressed into other roles including section manager positions.”
One member of staff, Seble, from Ethiopia, an English Language Partners’ learner, said she was thoroughly enjoying both her work and her English lessons.
Zlata Sosa, manager of English Language Partners, said the relationship was an excellent example of close ties between business and community organisations.
“Commonsense Organics’ philosophy and our philosophy of the wellbeing of the community connect us,” she said. “Having a relationship really is just common sense!
“Where possible, they provide non-English speaking people with that vital step into employment. They also encourage their learning, taking time to understand their needs, and actively support them in developing their skills.”
Writer: Patricia Thompson