Freshmax is a distribution warehouse in Auckland accessing ‘English for Employees’ run by English Language Partners Auckland South.
“The biggest problem we had was that they were scared to say anything to managers, but now they’re not.
“They’re not the shy, meek boys they were; they like to converse with people now and are comfortable doing it,” says Rose.
Two of “her boys” are workers Sione Mateaki and Pa Teauarai – who enjoyed their first 25-hour course module so much they signed up for the next module as well.
As part of the programme, employees, like Sione and Pa, come in to work two hours before their shift – or stay two hours after – and receive an English lesson one day a week.
Free for both employees and employers, the programme is available to anyone who has permanent residency and is working in New Zealand and, as both Sione and Pa can attest to, it really is win-win for everyone involved.
Freshmax had two classes on the go at once, a beginners class, where students, says teacher Betty Clyde, got “intensive care”, and an intermediate class, where students learnt work-related vocabulary and other vital skills such as filling in forms and how to converse on the telephone.
Dayshift manager Sione, from Tonga, says after taking the first 12-week module, he is now more confident speaking to people and interacting in his second language. “Communication is the main thing for us,” he says. “Before I could hardly communicate, but now I enjoy talking to people.”
And Vivienne Power, general manager of distribution, agrees. “The confidence we are seeing from our team is, to say the least, amazing, and very productive” says Vivienne.
“English Language Partners worked closely with us to tailor the programme to address health and safety in the workplace, and also ensuring when people signed their induction forms, they understood what they were signing.
“This whole process has given the team involved the confidence to question things in the workplace that they are not sure of and see that things are followed through correctly.”
Vivienne says the extra confidence of her employees also led to greater productivity. “We thoroughly recommend this programme and we will be continuing with it as long as we can,” she says.
Hoist driver and picker Pa Teauarai, originally from Rarotonga, finds himself greeting people more often and can see a marked improvement in his grammar and writing skills since he did the course.
“I have learned to have conversations with my friends and workmates and when this class came along it really boosted my English and my knowledge,” says Pa. “It made me want to learn more so I can teach my kids English. I share my homework with them.”
And for Betty, too, the improvements are obvious. “I can see they are starting to think in English now, which they never used to do,” she says. Both Sione and Pa say their favourite part of the classes were question and answer sessions, where they got to ask their classmates questions.
“They thought of the questions themselves and weren’t not censored, they could ask anything. They didn’t have to answer of course, but they could ask anything they liked,” explains Betty, who says the question and answer sessions gave students the chance to get to know each other better, as well as allow her to check their grammar and monitor their overall progress.
“I observed who was joining in and who was prepared to think outside the square – and some of the answers they came up with were quite funny, they’re quite the comedians,” she says.
And their enthusiasm is rubbing off on other workers too. “A lot of the boys that weren’t on the ESOL class want to do it now,” says Rose, and Sione too says he noticed students from the beginners class became more talkative and are eager to practise their new language skills every chance they get.
“Before they never talk. They never say ‘hi’ and they never say ‘bye’. And now, they get smart,” he laughs.
But it doesn’t stop there – the students’ newly-found English is not just destined to remain in the workplace, more often than not it is taken home with them too.
“My wife is Samoan, and I can’t speak her language and she can’t speak my language so we have to speak English,” says Sione who, like Pa, passes on his new language skills to his children.
“This English, they have never seen it before, it’s not like their school English,” he says.
And if the benefits in the household are anything like the benefits seen in the workplace, this programme is sure to remain as popular as ever.
Writer: James Fyfe