When T&G Global wanted to grow the skills of its team of orchard operators, it found an innovative solution in the Branch Out programme. The programme aims to grow the confidence and communication skills of employees who work in orchards, packhouses and cool stores. It puts them firmly on a career pathway helping them to realise their potential and thrive along the way. T&G sites at Whakatu in the Hawke’s Bay engaged with Upskills for a tailor-made solution. They wanted the course to reflect the T&G context, including key documents, processes and mindsets.
Success at work and home
Forty staff at T&G’s Hawke’s Bay site have taken part so far, and cool store employee Duane Nuku is one of them. For him, Branch Out has been life-changing at work and at home. Duane used to lack the confidence to connect, and a lack of skills was holding him back.
“Because I’ve always stuck to myself, it’s brought me in to connect with others. I don’t sit in the corner now, I mingle with other people. That was because there were times when I didn’t understand what they were talking about. So I’m really grateful to Branch Out,” says Duane. “I reckon it’s awesome.”
Duane believes the programme has helped him at home too.“It’s kind of made me a better person around my family, too, because I used to push them away but now it’s great because I’m right in there. For me, it’s helped a lot.”
A tailor-made programme
The success of the programme is in part due to understanding the real needs and goals of participants with buy-in from the outset.
“We talked to participants and their supervisors and looked at their goals from a workplace literacy and numeracy perspective,” says Upskills Director Sarah Balfour. “If you think about everyday tasks that happen in the orchard, like navigating orchard maps and lot and row numbers, understanding pruning plans and even things like filling out timesheets, there are key skills underpinning those tasks. The packhouse and cool store environments also have their own job numeracy and literacy demands – Branch Out took the chance to explore these skills in a practical, engaging way.”
Numeracy skills have been given a real boost through doing a lot of practical tasks, such as measuring distances with a tape measure or learning about ratios and volume by mixing liquids. Exploring these skills in a supportive group session helps to build confidence around numeracy in these tasks.
Project innovations deliver ongoing benefit
Part of the programme equips participants with problem-solving tools to tackle issues at work. One Branch Out group identified that in the Whakatu packhouse it is hard to distinguish between grades of apples on the labels when there are labels for two lanes being printed off the one printer. One of the participants who has been with T&G for a long time as a seasonal worker remembers that the packhouse used to use symbols on the labels which made it easier to identify the difference.
So the group explored the problem from the error rate around the standard and high-grade apples being wrongly labelled and stacked on a pallet, resulting in significant rework. It was suggested to the packhouse managers that a symbol was put back onto the labels.
Packhouse Manager Warren Laugesen says the symbols help to identify the grade of apple more quickly and easily. “For the 70 people in the packhouse shed, myself and forklift drivers included, it’s a good visual check and makes it easier to spot errors.” It means potential errors get picked up more quickly and therefore have less of an impact. He adds that because of Branch Out, team members feel more engaged and connected at T&G. “They have more confidence to know that they can speak up and be heard.”
Personal confidence builds engagement
For T&G Labour Manager, Maurice Windle, the benefits to the business are clear.
“It’s given our participants the ability to speak up in the workplace with confidence. Many of our team now sit in meetings and speak up whereas before they would stay quiet. It’s unlocked engagement and we’re a lot better off because of the Branch Out programme.”
Hawkes Bay Upskills Tutor, Saran Read says the biggest growth for many participants is a positive change in how they see themselves.
“Many of the participants had a pre-conceived belief that they couldn’t learn new things, but they have all surprised themselves.” She adds that the most rewarding part of facilitating the groups is seeing the participants grow in confidence. “It is amazing to see how confident they are by the end of the course,” says Saran. “Even the shyest participant is able to stand in front of managers at the end of the course and present well thought out ideas to benefit their workplace.”
Benefits of Branch Out
- More engaged team members
- A better understanding of processes – particularly health and safety
- More accurate form filling
- Seasonal workers feel greater loyalty to T&G, as they’ve received training that is of real value to them, both at work and in their personal lives
- Improvement projects presented to management have been well-received. People now have more confidence to speak up in meetings and make suggestions for improvement in the future
- Core skills lift
- Understanding of different business units
- Team and relationship building within the groups
- A platform for participants and their ideas to shine
- Grassroots innovation
- Improved interpersonal and communication skills