Company boss Mark Pepperell couldn’t be happier with the specialist skills and attitude of the Filipino tradesmen at Hamilton-based Tika Interiors Ltd.
Keen for staff to learn more Kiwi ‘work talk’ and workplace culture, Mark got in touch with English Language Partners for a solution – a business English class, tailored specifically to Tika’s needs.
The 20 employees are enjoying the programme so much it may be extended beyond eight weeks, and Tika is thinking of offering similar programmes at their Auckland and Tauranga branches.
Tika specialises in complete commercial interior fit outs, including feature ceilings, plastering and insulation.
Its Filipino staff are all specialist interior finishers.
“There aren’t enough tradespeople in New Zealand with these skills, so we visited the Philippines and recruited about 20 men,” says Mark. “We now have a Certificate of Accreditation from Immigration NZ and, to date, we’ve brought about 40 skilled workers from the Philippines. Some have been with us for four years.”
While the employees have reasonable spoken English, the company was encountering some communication issues.
“It’s a cultural thing,” says Mark. “They will naturally say ‘yes’ whether they’ve understood or not. They won’t question it, so mistakes may happen. We do a performance review twice a year and score all our staff on different aspects of their work. A lot were scoring low on communications.
“Until they lift that, there’s no way for them to step up in the business. It’s important they feel comfortable to say if they don’t understand, or to go and ask a question, whether it’s of their site foreman or workmates. They’re also keen to get residency, so improving their English will help them to further that.”
“Tika are very focused on the welfare of their workers,” says Jo de Lisle, English Language Partners Waikato manager. “The learners’ day-to-day English is not bad and they know some technical words, but they don’t understand Kiwi slang or idiomatic vocabulary and there’s a lot of that on a construction site.
“We use Immigration NZ’s ‘More than words’, with video clips of people using idiomatic expressions. A Tika manager sits in for a part of the lesson and they’ll talk about how they say something.”
Class teacher Lara Hillary is Filipino and has been teaching for English Language Partners for six years.
“This class is great. As I am Filipino, it’s easy for me to understand what is lacking, especially around the learners’ cultural education, and I can easily translate Kiwi terms.”
“The class are so enthusiastic and eager to learn.”
“Sometimes we talk about something specific that has happened and we also run through scenarios. I ask ‘what would you say in this situation?’ I can already see how much better they are doing from how they respond.”
The company is paying part of the costs of the course, run after work one evening a week, and the learners pay the rest.
“When I asked who was interested, not a hand stayed down,” says Mark. “Even guys who don’t have a problem with English. I said ‘you don’t need to do it’ but they all wanted to. They are never late for work and they are never late to class.
“We’ll see the results when we do our next Performance Review, but they are already benefiting.
“I have a feeling they won’t stop at eight weeks. I can see the classes going for quite a while.”
English Language Partners’ tailored programmes involve working directly with businesses to customise training that targets the specific needs of their workforce.
Goals are to improve communication with other workers and with customers, ensure employees understand instructions and safety requirements, reduce mistakes and increase confidence, productivity and profitability. Programmes can be delivered at the work site or another suitable location.