Whangarei Bunnings employees David Hill and Steven Stiff fell between the cracks at schools on opposite sides of the world and, until now, have spent their adult working lives struggling with poor literacy/communication and numeracy skills.
Failure at school writes the same life script for most people wherever they are and for the two men, it has been a case of "snap" all the way: Blocked from promotion, always having to find ways to get around their skill deficiencies, wanting to improve but not knowing where to find assistance as adults, watching their children acquire the skills they lacked, not being able to help with homework, and at Bunnings both heading for the back of the room at workplace meetings "for fear of being asked to speak".
All that has changed since they went through workplace literacy and numeracy training. The training is initiated by employers; funded through the Tertiary Education Commission's "never too late, never too early for willing workers" Workplace Literacy Fund; and delivered throughout Northland by Whangarei firm Venture Group.
David, who has lived in Whangarei all his life, says he was always a hands-on kid, who hated English, didn't mind maths and loved woodwork. He found school boring, hated it, and left as soon as he was 15 to go into forestry.
Crunch time came when he applied for promotion to a co-ordinator's role at Bunnings. "Well, I was nicely told that my literacy skills would let me down and the company said they were going to put me through a tutoring programme to bring me up to scratch. I was hopeless on the computer and spelling - I was a shocker. My note-taking was poor as well."
Steve says he struggled with school and wagged regularly. He says he has tried to teach himself as much as possible since leaving school. "I somehow got by. You learn to scoot around your deficiencies."
He says his reaction to hearing about the chance of workplace tutoring was "wow, this could help me".
David was promoted to co-ordinator while he was still on the course and says he is now happy emailing and confident enough to speak at meetings, and he is proud he can prepare and present a power-point display. His wife has noted he is less reserved.
The father of two adult children, he wishes he had gone through the training while they were still at home.
"I tried to tell them how I had missed out. I really so much wanted an opportunity to pick up the skills I needed but didn't know how to go about it.
"There was a bit of a stigma at first for me and Steve when we started the tutoring - 'oh, you've got a teacher!' sort of thing - but not now people have seen the results. I'd recommend the course to anyone who needs it."
Steve says one-to-one teaching and tutor Maria Croucher made it easy to learn - at last.
Father to three children, the eldest 15, he says the tutoring has given him the confidence talk about homework issues with his children, and this had brought them closer.