If your workplace is already productive, why invest in English language training? That was the question JS Ewers Limited were asking themselves when we first met them last year. With a ten week pilot Workplace Literacy programme wrapping up in November last year, the immediate benefits were clear to see – even though the the exact return on investment was more difficult to quantify.
A productive workplace, with some communication workarounds
John Ewers started the business in 1972 with a purchase of an orchard property. From small beginnings, the business now employs over 150 staff.
For many of those staff, English is their second language.
That language barrier creates a communication challenge for the business. To get around this, JS Ewers Ltd have supervisors who act as interpreters to bridge the communication gap between the management team and the rest of the business. The management team have also focussed on simplifying their messaging, using picture-based training materials as much as possible.
For the most part, this workaround delivers the results the business needs. Communications flow from management through the supervisors to the workers, and vice versa.
Yet, in a recent survey of Australian employers, a whopping 93% said that low levels of literacy and numeracy were negatively impacting on their business.
Could there be scope to improve productivity by opening up the communication channels between management and the supervisors, and also between the supervisors in the different teams?
A pilot workplace literacy programme for three supervisors
With a commitment to supporting the professional development of their supervisors, JS Ewers Limited decided to pilot a small Workplace Literacy programme for three of their supervisors.
The management team were keen to see an improvement in their general English skills. It was mainly about their ability to speak clearly, link words and sentences together when giving instructions.
With a focus on oral communication, the course ran for ten weeks, with two two-hour sessions each week.
The managers at JS Ewers Limited viewed the programme as a pilot. Not only was it a test of Adult Learning Support as an organisation, but also a test of the effectiveness of a workplace literacy and communication programme.
We’ve really noticed the difference
“As a business, the management team have really seen the difference in how the supervisors are working and communicating,” says Ursula O’Donohue, Finance & Administration Manager at JS Ewers.
“They’ve got lots more confidence, and now they’re asking questions to clarify whether they’ve been understood.”
“We didn’t appreciate how technical we had made some of the language of our workplace”
“As a business, we see a real benefit in improving communication around team expectations including areas such as HR and Health and Safety.”
Various New Zealand studies have analysed the return on investment (ROI) of workplace literacy and numeracy programmes and struggled to “find conclusive evidence of cost-benefit”.
Not because the programs have no impact but “because of the difficulty of research of this nature”. It’s tough to isolate the impact of a training programme and declare with certainty: “This programme resulted in this dollar impact.”
We asked Pierre Gargiulo, the GM of JS Ewers Ltd, to share his thoughts on the programme’s ROI:
“It’s more about engagement than ROI. If we have good communication, then that’s going to flow up and down the chain. If health and safety messages are being communicated, that reduces some significant risks. All I can say is it was clearly worthwhile.”
Helping to grow the future of JS Ewers Limited
With this successful pilot programme completed, we’re now working with JS Ewers Ltd to run another programme next winter.
Perhaps it will build on the supervisors’ learning this year, or maybe it will be extended out to workers as well as supervisors. There’s also some work to simplify the messages in their employment handbook – so it becomes something that adds real value to all workers.
Either way, we are excited about nurturing a long-term relationship with JS Ewers and supporting them to grow their future.