With almost 60 years’ experience, Palmerston North Panel and Paint have earned an excellent name in the panelbeater and autopainter industry, and with good reason.
Co-owner Wayne Page says it’s difficult finding the right employees to ensure their reputation is upheld. “We’ve searched long and hard, and had many a guy here on a trial period that’s only lasted two or three days.”
Their high standards make former refugee Aung Myo’s story all the more special.
The workshop is a hive of activity, with Aung in the midst of it all. He’s hard at work smoothing down a panel on a collision repair job. Originally from Myanmar, Aung and his family fled to Thailand to escape the political turmoil that had embroiled the Southeast Asian country.
After ten long years in a refugee camp, they were finally granted sanctuary in New Zealand. Aung had experience in automotive painting back in Myanmar, but in the camp, the only work available was helping part-time at a fruit and vegetable stand.
Starting a new life in Palmerston North was his chance to rejoin the workforce. On arrival, Aung spoke no English and began the challenging journey of learning a new language.
Once he had the basics, a work experience placement was arranged. “We were approached from Work and Income with the idea of taking on Aung for few days,” says Wayne. “He was with us for around two weeks. After that, he left and carried on his English studies.”
It wasn’t long afterwards that a position came up at Palmerston North Panel and Paint. “Based on Aung’s performance, we were happy to have him on board,” Wayne says.
“The benefits of Aung’s hard work and dedication far outweigh the challenges of a language barrier.” Wayne Page, Palmerston North Panel and Paint
While Aung continues to improve his English, Wayne has found inventive ways to communicate.
“You’ll see me in the workplace waving my arms around and miming to show what I need him to do. Together we have found ways to communicate.”
To further Aung’s language skills, Wayne contacted English Language Partners and helped Aung enrol in their English for Employees course.
Vanessa Curtis, Aung’s teacher, says it’s been a joy to hear about his success in the workplace. “Aung has built good relationships with his workmates and management, despite his English limitations,” says Vanessa.
“He negotiated a new contract and expressed a desire for more professional development. He asked to study hazardous substances, and then went on to pass his health and safety test.”
Being offered the opportunity to live an independent life, with a good job in a new country means the world to Aung. “I’m so lucky, my workmates help when I don’t understand. I really love my job, and seeing the end result.”
“He works bloody hard,” says Wayne.
“With Aung, you know he’s trustworthy. He’ll listen, take the information on board and do it. You won’t hear from him again until the job’s done.” Wayne Page, Palmerston North Panel and Paint
Wayne sees a long-term future for Aung. “Aung approached me to say he was interested in starting an apprenticeship. We knew there was going to be some issues as far as the language goes, but he assured me that he could overcome that, and I believe he will.”
Aung continues to upskill his English outside work hours with the assistance of an English Language Partners’ volunteer. “My home tutor is very, very good,” says Aung. “I’m learning words for my job.”
Wayne points to a wall in the office covered with certificates, and explains that Aung will gain all of that certification on the way through his Automotive Refinishing apprenticeship.
“Then he can go to some higher-level training, which could lead him to a foreman position. It will take him probably five or six years to grow to that position, but I have faith that he will do it. “The job is so important to him.”
Writer & photos Stevie Hight
Need better English at work? Ask your local centre about English for Employees.
ENGLISH FOR EMPLOYEES
- 2-4 hours per week (up to 45-hour course, flexible hours)
- For people with a job (full-time, part-time, casually/seasonally or self-employed)
- Improve your workplace English
- Qualified teachers
- Small classes
- For New Zealand citizens and residents
- Free programme
- In all centres (except Taupo)