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Improving its workforce’s literacy and numeracy skills helped a family business improve profitability and weather the recession

Despite the recession, Rotaform Plastics has become a far more profitable business in recent years.  Although many factors have contributed to this success, a workplace employee training programme to improve employees’ literacy played a major role according to Chief Executive, David Brumby.

The Mangere (Auckland) company is one of New Zealand’s premier rotational moulders and materials handling suppliers, with customers throughout Australasia, the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Like many small enterprises, Rotaform’s business approach was somewhat haphazard when it embarked upon its growth journey.

“We didn’t have a structured approach to marketing and had few business improvement systems in place,” says Brumby.  “As a result we were spinning our wheels.”

Management instigated a number of measures to improve efficiencies and boost profitability, which required its largely unskilled workforce to use increasingly sophisticated reporting tools and technical knowledge in their jobs.  It quickly became clear their staff did not have the required skills.  The company contracted adult literacy, numeracy and communication experts Workbase to assist and was amazed at what the initial analysis uncovered.

“I was truly surprised at the extent of the low literacy levels among my staff,” says Brumby. “Some didn’t understand the difference between a kilo and a gram, yet their jobs involved manually weighing out all our raw material.

“Material costs are enormous so even tiny measuring errors really add up – not to mention the implications for product quality.”

A group of employees attended an in-house individual and small group training programme tailored to meet Rotaform’s specific needs.  This enabled participants to immediately apply their newfound skills to their jobs.  During the numeracy and literacy training period, Rotaform introduced a new accounting system that required detailed information to be recorded in the factory. Workbase helped the company develop forms that were easy to understand and use, and to ensure employees had the literacy and numeracy skills required to complete the forms.

Brumby says the training programme benefited the company’s culture as well as its bottom line: “Team spirit, engagement and positivity increased among all of our people – not just the ones who did the course”.

Five years on, the programme continues to have a positive effect.

Like many businesses, Rotaform was hard-hit by the 2008 recession. Orders for some of our major products virtually ground to a halt, which required all parts of the business to make sacrifices. 

“The improved staff loyalty has been maintained and I was impressed with how our people stood by the company when the going got tough.”

Despite the challenges, Rotaform has survived the recession in good shape, with profitability having grown exponentially over the past five years.

Many of the original literacy and numeracy trainees have stayed on and now most of Rotaform’s team leaders are programme graduates.

“Improving our people’s literacy and numeracy skills made a difference on so many levels – from improving their work performance, through to personal achievements such as having a newfound confidence to help their kids with reading and other homework,” says Brumby.

“There’s never a silver bullet in business and our success arises from many different factors.

“But the practical, sustainable solutions for improving our workforce’s literacy and numeracy skills provided a strong platform from which to take Rotaform to the next level.  I’d recommend this course of action to any business contemplating a similar leap forward.”

About The Author:          

Workbase is New Zealand’s most experienced service provider of adult literacy, numeracy and communication support. Find out more at www.workbase.org.nz

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