Boosting communication and confidence at PAK’nSAVE

Sunday, March 5th, 2023

Investing in workplace training programmes has paid off for several PAK’nSAVE stores, with staff benefitting from improved communication within and outside the business.

Supermarket trolley filled with groceries.

As one of New Zealand’s largest supermarket chains, PAK’nSAVE places great importance on ensuring staff are equipped with the skills and confidence needed to effectively carry out their roles. With staff spread across the country, it’s essential that staff receive training that is consistent across the organisation, but also tailored to their individual needs.

In 2020, several North Island PAK’nSAVE stores signed staff up to workplace training programmes focusing particularly on leadership, communication, and customer service. The programmes were delivered by Aspire2 Business | Workplace Communication and supported by the Tertiary Education Commission’s Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund.

Despite the lingering threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, learners have progressed well through the programmes, gaining critical skills they can apply not just at work, but also in their personal lives.

Upskilling in key areas

Ensuring staff understand and follow health and safety policies and procedures is a top priority for PAK’nSAVE. In addition to specific courses on health and safety, Aspire2 Business |Workplace Communication also delivered training on effective communication, which aimed to improve employees’ communication skills not only with each other but also with customers.

The courses covered key topics such as assisting customers with confidence and communicating clearly. Learners have seen many positive flow-on effects from the training, both at work and in their personal lives, for example increased confidence, improved customer service skills, and improved engagement with their work.

As a direct result of the programme my staff have grown in confidence, and they feel more able to raise issues and communicate on a professional level,” says Kobie Henry, HR manager at PAK’nSAVE Ormiston.
“They are more engaged in their roles and really invested in the business as they feel they have a voice, and we are listening.

Tailored programmes that put learners at the centre

The success of the programmes was largely down to the way PAK’nSAVE worked with Aspire2 Business | Workplace Communication to customise the training to the specific needs of their workforce.

The programmes were developed in close consultation with PAK’nSAVE managers and supervisors from each participating store, to target priority skill areas and ensure they catered to the cultural needs of a diverse workforce. As a result, learners were able to take advantage of culturally inclusive programmes and benefit from individual, tailored assessments.

The benefits of such training were clear to see, evidenced in PAK’nSAVE’s long-running relationship with Aspire2 Business | Workplace Communication. For instance, 2020 was the third consecutive year the Glen Innes PAK’nSAVE store ran these programmes.

I have seen amazing improvements in the learners’ communication, they have developed a great understanding of how their actions and words affect outcomes in any situation,” says Tahlia Smith, HR/compliance assistance at PAK’NSAVE Westgate.

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Van Den Brink Poultry increase efficiency and reduce waste

Sunday, March 5th, 2023

Business improvement ideas that came from two groups at Van Den Brink Poultry resulted in increased efficiency and reduced waste at their company’s factories.

Van Den Brink Poultry has run their workplace literacy and communication programme for over 75 staff across Auckland sites for the last two years. The programmes are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission’s Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund.

Learners are challenged through critical thinking and problem solving to find a way of improving their current workplace. The programme has been a real benefit to participants, with the creation of a clear and achievable career progression for staff. Some of them are now on a pathway into NZQA formal qualifications as a result of boosted skills and confidence they have received in the programme. More broadly, the programme is a signal of Brinks’ commitment to implementing ideas and the confidence of its participants to put their ideas forward.

Sarah Balfour, a director at Upskills, the training provider that delivered the courses: “Our kaupapa at Upskills is grounded in growing the potential in learners and their organisations. Throughout the course of the Step Up programme we workshop and unpack different models and tools that shift awareness around thinking about communication, product waste, and continuous improvement.

“When you empower your staff with the tools to express their ideas with confidence, the return on that investment is huge and that’s what we’ve seen with Step Up. From cost benefit thinking, pitching an innovation, growing digital literacy and becoming more confident in their interpersonal and team interactions, participants can stand tall in all the learning they are taking away from being part of the programme. What’s even better is that these skills, tools and thinking flow out to impact their colleagues and even families and communities. Brinks is creating a powerful learning culture and foundation literacy and numeracy is a key part of that.”

Four learners in one group chose to reduce chicken breast portion waste as an improvement project. The annual cost of this waste is significant. As part of the programme the team learned:

how to write persuasive emails (having never written emails before)
to co-ordinate meetings with the site manager, engineers, health and safety, and human resources
to express their ideas (having been too shy to talk to management before the course).
The four came up with various ideas and persevered until they identified a solution, one that could be made out of pieces of scrap metal that the factory engineers already had on hand. Meaning very little time and cost to create.

In the first week of implementation, wastage was reduced by around 90 per cent. This has the potential to save the company a huge amount of money annually.

The other project involved knife sharpening. This learner group brainstormed ideas identified that improving the factory staff’s ability to sharpen knives properly would reduce time waste, accidents, product waste and improve overall efficiencies.

They displayed phenomenal teamwork and addressed the issue from many angles:

  • inviting supervisors in for meetings
  • requesting data from Health and Safety managers
  • requesting a new knife sharpening tool be purchased which would benefit both shifts
  • preparing an online presentation for key managers in the business
  • creating an uplifting and informative video on how to sharpen knives
  • becoming the ‘expert users’ of the new knife sharpening tool.

Now instead of staying sharp for three-four hours, the knives remain sharp for three-four days!

Course participants talked positively about what they had gained from the programme, in terms of the contribution they had made by improving the business and how it had built their confidence and skills.

“I learned I can focus on work and on answering questions and I can do 2 or 3 things at the same time. And ever since I grew up I don’t like to share things… But I learned on the course that to share is a good thing and how to share my ideas with other people as well.”

“The best thing was improving my knowledge and skills in doing my own job and understanding more about the importance of everything we do daily. I can now confidently do my job without asking and raise up issues that need to be fixed to the charge hand and supervisors. I use what I learned from the course to empower other workers. “

“I believe my communication with management, my team and with others at work is a lot stronger now. I feel I am more patient with teaching others what I know and have learnt from the course.”

I apply everything I have learnt from the course everyday with my work, as I am leading by example.”

Van Den Brink’s two learner groups jointly won the 2020 Skills Highway Learner Group Champion Award.

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Neat Meat: Calm down and connect!

Wednesday, March 1st, 2023

In 2018 Neat Meat’s Melissa Ryder won the Skills Highway Champion Supreme Award. She was nominated by the company’s Operations Manager, Allan Dobbie and the training provider The Learning Wave for the changes she’d made to her way of working and dealing with others at Neat Meat. “I couldn’t believe it and the award last year encouraged a lot of other staff. We now hear ‘please can we go on the course,’” says Melissa.

Recently the Skills Highway team visited Neat Meat to find out what was happening there and what Melissa is up to a year down the track.

Based in Auckland and Queenstown Neat Meat processes, markets and distrbutes high quality meat products to over 500 customers. With a staff of 70, Chief Executive Officer, Simon Eriksen says they are a business that likes to please – the farmers and the customers. To do this the company needs people who can problem solve and and communicate. “Seventy percent of the work is routine, but 30 percent is unique and the only solution is people,” says Simon.

And this is where Melissa comes in. Simon describes her as someone who has empathy for the customer and someone who goes the extra mile. But it wasn’t always like this. Before the ‘Neat Teams’ programme and fairly new to the company, Melissa said she didn’t say much, lacked confidence and didn’t understand what others at work were talking about. “I never opened my mouth. I did as I was told,” says Melissa.

She thought the the culture on the shop floor was fairly harsh and people were not overly respectful of one another, which likely contributed to the high turn over rate which has reduced dramatically during the last year. Melissa notes that since the time of the programme staff have opened up and are prepared to say what they can’t do. They are also kinder to each other, “The back stabbing and gossiping has stopped.”

Since the programme Melissa has been promoted. “I don’t think I would have been a supervisor without the course. My old habits were, ‘Don’t ask, just do the bloody job’. I didn’t know any other way.” While she has changed the way she works she is also now in a position to support others and direct some of them to the Neat Teams programme. As a result she see changes to their ways of working, “We see a new work ethic and they’re not shy to say they don’t understand.”

Learning about team dynamics has had a considerable impact on the way Melissa forms teams and gets them working together. She knows her staff’s preferred ways of working and how this impacts on work within the team and with her. “I realise I need different sorts of people and all sorts. This is how I strategise my department. I try them in different jobs, appreciate them all and work to their strengths.” Out of this has developed a more flexible workforce that is able to shift between teams and jobs. Now the teams are able to communicate without using management. “We have our systems up and running. The course has built trust between the employer and the employee,” says Melissa.

There has also been a big change in Melissa’s home life. “The training made me stronger in family life with my kids. I need to talk, sit down, understand my kids.” As a single parent she often felt overwhelmed by the need to work to put a “roof over the kids’ heads”. The learning from the course has helped her to, “calm down and connect,” with her boys. In the process she has learnt more about them and what they like to do. She discovered that her 10 year old loved to bake and he’d not told her this because she was, “always too tired and grumpy when she came home from work”. They now bake together.

Melissa is ready for the next challenge and feels ready to move up in the company, to “be a boss”. She wants to think about what she can do apart from working in her current department, “I’ve got Dispatch where I want it.”

So, a year down the track Melissa is a supervisor who sees an overall change in the way she works and the culture of the workplace. She is now called Ma by her team and co-workers. “I’m feeling like and old lady, but it’s a sign of respect. I got the name ‘Ma’ not long after the training programme.” But she is very aware that the work is not about her. “It’s not Ma’s way, it’s Neat Meat’s way.”

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‘Simply the Best’ at Foodstuffs South Island Distribution Centre

Wednesday, March 1st, 2023

Foodstuffs is New Zealand’s largest grocery organisation and its Distribution Centre in Hornby is the hub for the South Island. Foodstuffs knows that its biggest asset is its staff and at the Hornby Distribution Centre they have a diverse workforce, with over 1000 staff and around 30 different nationalities.

Gerard Anngow, the Training and Development Coordinator, first heard about the impact of a workplace literacy and numeracy programme at a barbeque. ‘Sounds too good to be true’ he thought, but a meeting with Richard White from RMG, convinced Foodstuffs to participate in a programme. The literacy and numeracy programme was first piloted in 2017. This was successful but piloting the programme also allowed for a few tweaks to be made to ensure it was fit for purpose before rolling it out to the wider team.

Naming the programme was key. To begin with it was called Literacy and Numeracy Training. However, this didn’t give the staff the best perception of the course benefits, therefore, something had to be done. After some brainstorming, ‘Simply the Best’ was born – the name helps ‘sell’ the 10-week, 40-hour programme to staff who’d like to improve and become ‘Simply the Best” in both in their work and personal lives.

Celebrating success is pivotal to the Simply the Best programme. Success deserves recognition, many of the staff have stepped out of their comfort zone to shine, and shine they do, they beam with pride. At their graduation, each group presents their improvement projects to around 40 – 50 people, including Foodstuffs South Island CEO and Senior Executives. All projects presented have been relevant to the business and based around people and process improvement. Many have been introduced by Foodstuffs in some shape or form.


Some of these projects were nominated for the 2018 Skills Highway Champions Awards, held in late 2018:

  • The Foodies Fantastical Festival of Diwali was created by the most diverse group on the Simply the Best programme, covering four separate divisions of the business and representing five cultures. Prior to the programme, most team members did not know each other. But it didn’t take long for the team to forge a respectful bond through openness and honesty in sharing their cultural norms and celebrations, life experiences and journeys. In choosing a group project, the team wanted a cultural focus and chose to set up the inaugural Foodies Fantastical Festival of Diwali – a three-day celebration of Diwali. The team is driving this project which has been fully endorsed by the business. Foodstuffs firmly believes that making staff more informed about different cultures will improve interpersonal and intercultural communication, enabling staff to convey ideas and instructions more efficiently, and leading to improved productivity due to fewer misunderstandings and less conflict.
  • Tuhinga: The Safe Place – the Tuhinga team, consisting of day and afternoon shift workers, was also a diverse group. They learned about each other’s culture and gained knowledge and skills to better manage their finances. As part of the programme the group selected a workplace continuous improvement project – choosing the company’s health and safety on-line reporting system, Vault, because they had found it challenging to use prior to the course. They designed a staff survey, using their improved reading and writing skills, to find out if other staff also found the system challenging to use. Once barriers were identified, the team developed the concept of Tuhinga: The Safe Place – a safe place for Vault reporting, using Vault Champions – staff who are competent Vault users – to assist staff to file reports. The team felt that over time staff would gain the skills to file reports without assistance and Foodstuffs have implemented many of these ideas.
  • The Ngā Mahi team’s project won a Skills Highway Innovation Award. As part of the course the team became aware of the diverse opportunities to progress in the business but thought most staff did not know this, so they decided to tackle this issue for their group project. They wanted to develop a way that staff could be more supported in their career journey at FSSI so they came up with the concept of the Ngā Mahi office – a jobs office providing support and guidance. They felt in this supportive environment more Māori and Pasifika staff would seek more senior roles. The company is going to implement this innovative project with the HR team organising CV and interview preparation courses and setting up a Ngā Mahi drop-in office.


‘Simply the Best’ wouldn’t work without the people who make it happen! Bridget (Bridge) Gambell is the training and development department of the FSSI with responsibility for organising and managing staff training, new staff inductions and 30-day reviews, plus identifying talent for further development.

When first developing the Simply the Best training course Bridge was right there – espousing the positive impact it would have on her team to anyone who would listen and encouraging management and staff to come on board with the amazing opportunity. Bridge walked the ‘floor’, talking to most of our staff, encouraging them to seize this learning opportunity and to not let their fears of failure prevent them from participating in the programme. She talked openly about her own learning challenges, and how the only way forward for her was to take every training opportunity. Bridge’s passion and enthusiasm for this work was recognised with a Skills Highway Champion Workplace Support Award.

Diane Thomas, HR Business Support Manager says “nobody deserves this award more than Bridge. Bridge is always there to support and guide everyone she meets. Bridge is an outstanding team member and a true asset to our department’.

Of course it’s the programme participants who really drive the success of Simply the Best. Two Foodstuffs learners were recognised as 2018 Skills Highway Champion learners:

  • Faauma Toatua has become an asset to the business, training new staff on forklifts and mentoring/training new employees. During the programme Faauma took every opportunity to improve his English language skills, taking home the day’s training booklet to further study. He participated enthusiastically in all activities, constantly applying new learning. Faauma particularly enjoyed the financial literacy in the course, sharing his newfound knowledge and skills with his family and community.
  • Faauma is now a trainer in the First Move programme – a health and safety initiative to train all staff to move properly and safely in the workplace. He is also an active member on the process improvement team, helping to establish best practice across everything Foodstuffs does. “Simply the Best has helped me understand and have respect for other cultures and beliefs.”
  • Binod Mishra was born in Bhutan, living 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to New Zealand in 2008. During the Simply the Best programme Binod took every opportunity to improve his understanding and working knowledge of the English language, often taking worksheets home to share with others in his community so they too could benefit. He took every opportunity to improve his spoken English. He commented that the course improved his communication with his community, including elders and the family, taking the learning from the course to help others with visa applications, travel arrangements and job interviews. Binod is also using the money management skills he gained on the course to build a better life for his family and his wife, and he is now taking night classes, so he can apply for more senior roles at Foodstuffs.
  • Binod has taken his honed communication skills into the workplace becoming a better supervisor, is building stronger relationships with his team and motivating and inspiring other staff. Binod says “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Of the 91 staff that have been through the program, 85 are still employed within the business, which is a much higher retention rate than those who have not been through it. Some of those that have done the course have stepped up and taken on more responsibility and they help to promote the programme to others.

There were a further 12 or so staff ready to start the course in June. ‘Although it’s been a big investment in terms of lost time, it’s been worth every cent when you see what people get out of it’ says Gerard. ‘The results for Foodstuffs as a business are brilliant, however, the benefits for the individuals in their wider personal life and communities are immeasurable’.

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