Venture Group of Whangarei has been given 1560 funded hours for Northland workplace tutoring in 2012 under the Tertiary Education Commission's Workplace Literacy Fund - the equivalent of 39 places for 40 hours each (the hours can be "split" if a client doesn't need the full 40 hours).
Some would say it's not bad considering the slash-and-burn cost-cutting going on across government departments; others that it's a drop in the bucket considering the level of need.
The 2006 Adult Literacy and Language Survey showed that nearly half of New Zealand's workforce had gaps that can make it difficult to complete everyday work tasks. Yet six years later the TEC has funding to help only 7140 people nationwide.
Venture Group, contracted to deliver the programme in Northland, has worked with companies of all sizes, including Avon Industries Ltd, Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Barfoote Construction, Culham Engineering, Golden Bay Cement, The Warehouse, Hansen Products, Northpine, Rosvall Sawmill, Rudolphs, Bunnings, Silver Fern Farms, Winstone Aggregates and residential care homes.
The tutoring is mainly one-to-one, delivered on-site and tailored to the individual's workplace needs, and no one has a bad word to say about it, except that the smaller the company the harder it is likely to be to juggle schedules so personnel can be released for tutoring.
Rosvall Sawmill director Mark Hansen says gains were obvious in the six workers who went through the programme and the company had been very happy to be involved but the absence of workers for even a few hours from a tightly-run operation had been a cost to the company.
He said the company had selected only up and coming operators or senior operating staff who were likely to be in the company for the long haul. Outcomes had been very positive. "We'd certainly do it again but not for a year or two. There's only so much time you can spend on training. Sometimes you just have to get the work done."
About 16 of 20 employees at Whangarei firm Rudolphs Ltd (abrasive blasting and coating application) went through the programme, with a tutor from Venture Group working on-site for about 40 weeks.
Co-owner Caroline Erceg says releasing so many staff for tutorials had been challenging operationally but the exercise had opened up possibilities for future development within the company.
Acceptance had been gradual - "they tended to start out a little bit sceptical but as they got into it they really looked forward to working with the tutor. We can certainly say we got the outcomes we were looking for - improved confidence and performance, a really enhanced ability to listen and follow instructions and contribute to the team".
Venture Group director Tricia Cutforth says literacy is the foundation for many of the tasks performed in the workplace and isn't just "reading, writing and arithmetic".
"It also includes interpersonal skills such as speaking and listening, critical thinking, problem solving, taking initiative and teamwork.
"Company productivity can even be adversely affected by experienced workers if they can't use a computer, write reports, or fill out budget projection sheets accurately."
Delivering the Northland WLF service, Venture Group identified actual skills needed and addressed these gaps. The programme was individualised, lifting the skill-set of individual employees and consequently the company's productivity.
She tells owners "literacy and numeracy training is an investment in your business, not a cost".
Northland Chamber of Commerce CEO Tony Collins says workplace literacy and numeracy issues must be addressed if the region was to lift productivity. "Releasing workers for this training is a big commitment for employers in smaller companies but there will be a return on the 'investment' in terms of higher productivity, fewer mistakes, less unintentional damage of equipment, better customer service. And having a programme available like this also means employers may be more willing to take a punt on employing promising young people, who have literacy and numeracy deficiencies."
How safe is the Workplace Literacy Fund? It's a case of reading between the lines: the Tertiary Education Commission has told the Northern Advocate that there are no plans to cut the fund "in the near future".