Onyx Capital Ltd – committed to growing staff in Whangarei

Kiwifruit and berries are the lifeblood of Whangarei’s Onyx Capital Ltd. And staff are also blossoming at the family-owned business, which employs 60 year-round staff and reaches about 170 workers at peak season.

Onyx owners, the Malley family, are committed to employing and upskilling local kiwis. Training, they say, is the key to keeping employees in the team, together with encouraging career progression into supervisory and management roles. Onyx offers a number of employee training programmes – from core skills, to emerging and developing leaders. Education Unlimited delivers these programmes, which are funded through the Tertiary Education Commission’s (TEC) Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund.

Tina Rose, Director of Education Unlimited, says tailoring the programmes to individual needs is essential for people to connect and engage with learning. “The progamme helped some to get a learner’s licence, move to their restricted or have the confidence and capability to get a full licence,” she said. A couple of trainees had dyslexia challenges, so a specialist tutor assisted them with reading and understanding of workplace documents. The leadership programme focuses on workplace policies; dealing with difficult conversations; the difference between being in the team and leading a team; and effective communication.

Onyx HR Manager, Michelle Clayton, says the career development approach is a real boost for employees. “The company identified a need to develop our existing employees to be the future Supervisors, QCs and specialists, so we worked on creating clear career pathways. We started the programmes as we wanted to develop them. We wanted them to come to work, feel valued, understand about health and safety and our expectations of what ‘being a good employee’ actually means.

Michelle says there is a misconception that orchard work is unskilled, but it includes computerised growing and highly technical machinery use, through to managing Health and Safety and food safety in a modern packhouse.

The core skills that underpin productive working, such as being reliable, being healthy, organised and having a positive team attitude in the orchard are a training focus. Workers are also encouraged to understand conflict resolution, active listening, and are developing the skills and confidence to enable conversations with management.

“For orchard workers on a management trajectory, it can be challenging to change from working in a team one day to the next day leading a team as their supervisor or QC!” says Michelle. “The Developing Leaders’ course challenges participants to grapple with aspects of leadership, including conflict resolution, understanding workplace policies, and motivating teams to achieve set targets.”

Michelle says employees who are keen to advance on to supervisory or management roles know the training will teach them how to improve their performance and drive their teams. “They develop the skills and knowledge to participate in management meetings, and they understand the impact of workers performance on the business and its productivity.”

The training brings workers from different parts of the business together – they get to know each other and learn the different aspects of the business. However, fitting the training into the busy working day has been a challenge. Onyx worked around this by paying workers to attend training sessions at the end of the day and by providing them with dinner.

And the benefits to the business? Michelle says there is a noticeable change to how people are working. Workers have blossomed as a result of the Core Skills programme, they feel valued and invested in. “And those in the management programmes are more confident when dealing with the next level up – it’s great to see them now contributing in meetings They share their ideas, can challenge in an appropriate way. They are much better at identifying issues, developing solutions and being able to deal with any performance issues.”

In general, employees are more aware of the expectations and standards of the company, says Michelle. “The Malleys have strong family values. People know what is expected, and it’s fair. The employees value the culture of the workplace – and understand being a good productive worker is so much more than just having great skills. It’s being a participating member of the team.”