Connecting cultures, growing businesses with English Language Partners NZ

“Productive businesses need staff who can communicate confidently in English,” says English Language Partners (ELPNZ) Chief Executive, Nicola Sutton. “Communication is the key to understanding instructions, engaging with colleagues and customers, and reducing workplace accidents.”

ELPNZ provides English language training for New Zealand migrants and refugees. The 22 ELPNZ centres across the country provide training programmes in homes, communities and workplaces. English language training for our multicultural workforce is a growing focus.

Migrants from all over the world are contributing to every industry, and employers are seeing the benefits of supporting their staff through ELPNZ programmes. Training is tailored for specific businesses, and the results are universally positive – more confident, engaged staff and more efficient, productive workplaces.

Korean born, Auckland-based building apprentice Joseph Lee says his ELPNZ course has made a huge difference. “I couldn’t speak English very well. I really wanted to learn, but I couldn’t get much of a chance. I have to work and I have a family. I needed money.”

Joseph attended a weekly course, designed in partnership with Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) and ELPNZ, tailored for building apprentices, who were mainly from China, Taiwan and Korea.

James Langford, from BCITO, says they are looking into working with ELPNZ on future projects. “I think just talking in English in the classroom has given the apprentices confidence.” He says previously they were scared to make a mistake, “but now they’re prepared to stick their neck out and say what they think.”

Joseph says he is now much more confident at work, as he learned all about building terminology. “I recommend the course, as long as they really want to speak English and to be a New Zealander. If they are eager to learn. My boss is happy.”

David Phillips, from Palmerston North’s Steelfort Engineering, sponsored employee Sudhi Edamuttath Subramanyan on a 10-week ELPNZ course, and noticed a marked difference. “It is an investment because ultimately, we will benefit too,” says David. “We wanted to give him every opportunity to succeed.”

Sudhi says he appreciates having an encouraging work environment and being supported ‘as a human being’. “I love it there.”

While Sudhi had four years’ experience as a welder in Kerala, South India, he had no qualification to help him get a job. Sudhi has now completed a welding course with the support of Steelfort Engineering. “I was very shy when I started, but now I try to speak English as much as I can, and I am not afraid to ask questions,” says Sudhi. “I am now a team leader.”

Justin Dado is also a team leader, of the housekeeping team at Auckland’s YMCA, which comprises five different nationalities and deals with visitors from all corners of the globe. “You’ve really got to get in there,” says Justin. “People are people. It doesn’t matter where they are from. You just need to engage, and doing that will reveal just how much we are all alike.”

When Justin first moved to Auckland, he was struck by its cultural diversity. “Growing up in the Philippines, I only ever had to live, learn and grow with Filipino culture, without worrying too much about how other cultures operated,” says Justin. “Auckland was a big change. The fact that so many people co-existed in the same place completely boggled my mind.”

Together with advancing English skills, ELPNZ programmes involve broader cultural learning about working in New Zealand. The YMCA housekeeping team attended a tailor-made ELPNZ course once a week over eight weeks, which addressed the norms of kiwi work and hospitality culture, and identified similar and differing values that staff members had. “In Filipino work culture, you are there to serve the customer,” says Justin. “You are not really expected to engage beyond that. However, here there is more of an expectation of friendly interaction.”

ELPNZ Auckland Central manager, Eve Price, says for a lot of the staff, practising small talk was quite a daunting exercise. “Engaging with people didn’t come quite as easily as it might for Kiwis.”
Paul Brockie, owner of Nelson insulation company Absolute Energy, would agree. Having supported five Burmese (Myanmar Chin) staff through ELPNZ training in Nelson, he says communicating with customers is the most important thing. “They learn how to relate to people in a New Zealand culture; to not be shy when you meet someone new,” says Paul, who is delighted at the results of the ELPNZ course, which was two hours a week over four months. “They have had a really tough life so every opportunity they have to better themselves, they take.”

Installation installer, Johnsy Johnsy, can now confidently greet homeowners in English. “I introduce myself with my name and my partner’s name. I say ‘We’re from Absolute Energy and we’ve come to install your insulation. It’s good for me. I’m better than before,” says Johnsy, who has settled in Nelson with his wife and two-year-old daughter. “Even when people talk fast now, I can understand.”

Johnsy’s partner on installation jobs is also usually Myanmar Chin. They can be heard singing gospel songs from home in the company van, but once on site they now switch to English.

Tony Fitzwater, from ELPNZ in Nelson, says there was a noticeable increase in participation as the course went on. “They treasure it,” says Tony. “They note the improvement in their language and their ability to function better in the workplace. They can understand directions and instructions and can communicate back to their supervisors and their peers.”