How the Future Ready: Life Online course is helping Pacific employees with valuable skills in and out of the workplace.
The Comfort Group produces a huge range of mattresses, bed bases and other bedding products for the Australian and New Zealand markets. It employs roughly 1000 people, with around 250 working in its Auckland-based manufacturing facilities.
In New Zealand, the workforce includes a high proportion of Māori and Pacific people, many with lengthy experience in the business. A couple of staff members have been working in the factory for 50 years, and around a dozen have 40 plus years on the job.
Although these team members have built significant experience and knowledge of their manual work tasks, many are less confident when it comes to the digital side of things. And as The Comfort Group increases its use of digital technology on the factory floor and elsewhere, this is becoming a challenge.
That’s where the Auckland Unlimited Future Ready: Life Online course came in. After putting a small group through the pilot programme, the management team is already seeing a boost in computer confidence, which is impacting their work and their home lives.
“It’s definitely game-changing for us, but also for them, having that freedom,” says Manager People & Culture, Rebecca.
Serious manual skills, missing digital literacy
Although many aspects of The Comfort Group’s manufacturing process can’t be automated, it’s increasingly using digital technology to manage other parts of the business. Rebecca explains that contracts, incident reports and other functions are accessible on the staff intranet, and they have just moved training, performance reviews, remuneration details and more into an online system.
However, a lack of digital literacy means that this system isn’t accessible to everyone on the team. Rebecca estimates that around 40 per cent of people on the manufacturing side don’t have an email address or the ability to use online systems, whether that’s because of lack of confidence or lack of internet access. The other 60 per cent may have an email address, but they’re not necessarily confident in their digital skills.
This means online systems are under utilised, adding manual work for HR teams and staff members. For the manufacturing team, it means missing out on handy access to online training for upskilling, procedure notes and other work tools.
We want to be able to have digital leave requests, but a lot of our staff don’t have the capability or the confidence to do that kind of stuff. We want them to be able to jump on to the intranet and find a procedure or a standard operating procedure that’s really helpful.
Rebecca – Manager People and Culture
During last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns, this lack of access was particularly difficult. Rather than simply sending an all-staff email or running a Zoom meeting, the HR and operations teams were forced to call people individually whenever lockdown rules changed. This added hours of work for Rebecca and made it harder for staff to keep up with changes at a stressful time.
Building digital skills at work and home
As the digital revolution changes the way we live and work, a lack of confidence can lead to people missing out on important information and valuable tools. This can have a real impact at home and in the workplace.
“There are a lot of challenges in terms of fear of technology. Often the biggest barrier is one that they’ve put there themselves because they’re too scared to touch it,” says Rebecca.
That’s why the Future Ready: Life Online course was so appealing to the management team at The Comfort Group. The course, which teaches skills like using email, online banking and general online basics, is designed to give people the confidence to use digital tools.
“It gives people the ability to get familiar with technology, to get involved with it. It means they can have more meaningful participation not only in the workplace but in their lives, particularly if they’ve got children at school.”
Simple course delivery, big benefits
The course was delivered by education provider Education Unlimited. As Rebecca explains, the management team just had to sort out scheduling and choose team members to take the course, and Education Unlimited did the rest.
Uptake was quick, and attendance was high – staff seemed excited about learning new skills. Rebecca explains that they’ve seen a boost in computer confidence in employees who completed the course, and they expect those new skills to continue delivering benefits.
Improved skills and confidence make it easier for management to introduce online work tools and deliver information efficiently, particularly if more of the workforce take the course. It’s an ongoing process, but Rebecca thinks this first step was well worth the initial time investment.
“The upside, in terms of engagement and building those core skills, is making people less resistant to learning new technology. That far outweighs the time spent off the floor.”
Developing digital confidence with Project Ikuna
The Future Ready: Life Online course that helped The Comfort Group team boost their digital confidence is part of Project Ikuna, a four-year, MBIE-funded programme designed to help upskill Auckland’s Pacific workforce. It’s aimed at giving people the capability and knowledge they need to adapt to the future of work, particularly after the economic impacts of COVID-19.